Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (43)

Joan Collins

Question:

43. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he has investigated setting up an ASD specific school in an existing school (details supplied). [26795/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Education)

Has the Minister investigated establishing an ASD specific school in an existing school that is not being used, namely, Scoil Colm on Armagh Road in Crumlin, Dublin 12? I am raising this issue on behalf of the Dublin 12 campaign for ASD inclusion. They are a group of parents who are campaigning for the establishment of ASD units, classes and specific schools in the area and accreditation for the community as being ASD inclusive.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Ensuring every child has access to an appropriate school placement is a priority for me and the Government. Considerable progress has been made in recent years in growing additional provision for children with special educational needs through increased enrolment in mainstream and special classes and special schools. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, plays a central role in advising on the nature and mix of provision required, co-ordinating and supporting the establishment of the necessary number of places to meet local need, including in the area referred to by the Deputy. It is open to any school, including special schools, to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and, where sanctioned, a range of supports, including capital funding, is available to the school. My Department works closely with the NCSE in that regard.

While progress has been made in recent weeks, further work is required to ensure every child has a suitable school placement for September. Every school has a duty to open special classes and other specialist provision sufficient to meet the needs of the local community. Following the commencement of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, a power has been created to allow me to compel a school to make additional provision for special education. As the Deputy is aware, the power has yet to be invoked, but if we meet challenges, we will have to keep a very close eye on this issue.

The NCSE has advised my officials that there is a need for some additional specialist education provision in the Dublin 12 area for the upcoming school year and that it is continuing to work with parents and local schools to ensure there will be sufficient special school and special class places for pupils who will require them in the Dublin 12 area in September.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In Dublin 12 there are nine ASD classes, with a maximum of six children attending each class. The classes range from early intervention preschool classes up to and including sixth class. The children remain in the ASD class until they are integrated into a mainstream classroom, where they have the benefit of learning among their peers, while having the security provided by the ASD class and experienced staff. Unfortunately, not all schools cater for ASD classes from junior infants to sixth class, which can be very stressful for the children involved. There are long waiting lists to access ASD units in Dublin 12. Children with moderate to severe autism are unable to access mainstream classrooms and require autism specific schools where they can have their individual needs met. Scoil Colm on Armagh Road in Crumlin would be a perfect setting for an ASD specific school. Dublin 12 has an established special school, Scoil Eoin, which is situated beside it. There are 134 children in the school which, unfortunately, does not take autistic children. The school could link closely with Scoil Colm to provide a specific school.

I again thank the Deputy. This type of information on the ground is invaluable to the officials who work on the issue. The Deputy is correct that there are nine autism classes, one early intervention class, eight primary autism classes and five post-primary classes. Out of a budget of €1.9 billion, €300 million goes directly to support services for young autistic children in primary and secondary schools. I encourage the Deputy to continue doing what she is doing and give us information. She has personal contacts and knowledge at local level and may believe schools need more information. Every special school and school with special classes are further enriched by providing for inclusion. If more information is needed for these schools to let them know how invaluable it could be in a local area, I will be happy to do it with my officials.

I welcome the Minister's response because parents of children with autism in the area must go outside it to look for classes. One parent cannot even get his child into a school. For children with moderate to severe autism who are unable to cope in a mainstream setting, an ASD specific school will fulfil their educational needs. Scoil Colm is run by the Edmund Rice Schools Trust. The parents have met the trust to discuss the possibility of the school becoming an autism specific school and it is very open to considering it. The door is open and we will keep pushing it as much as possible. There is plenty of land available to build a new ASD specific school, but we have identified Scoil Colm, a large area behind which could be developed as a sensory garden. There are many opportunities. It is situated right beside a health clinic with GPs, public health nurses, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists. There is a huge opportunity to develop the school which is not operating as an autism specific school with the support of Scoil Eoin. I have also tabled Parliamentary Question No. 65 to ask the Minister to meet the parents to examine this issue.

The NCSE, through its special education needs officers, SENOs, and its network of resources on the ground, constantly engages with principals and different school patrons to identify and determine needs. We have to examine existing capacity. Are some schools willing to invest more and put in additional classes? That is an ongoing challenge. We have 124 special schools nationally and seven hospital schools. We have choices to make all of the time regarding where investment will go. I reiterate that the NCSE is the agency on the ground identifying needs. There will be a constructive response if a need is identified. Regarding a national breakdown of students attending mainstream schools, 63% of young children on the autism spectrum attended mainstream schools, 26% attended special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools and 11% attended special schools.