In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.
The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019. We have significantly increased the availability of special placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE). This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.
In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE take account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned. The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
When the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation. Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.
Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available on www.ncse.ie.
The NCSE has informed my Department that they intend to establish over 167 new special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year of which 156 will be new ASD special classes.
Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, issues remain. There are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system.
The NCSE and my Department are actively engaging with education service providers in order to encourage them to address the shortage of places. The NCSE will keep in regular contact with the Parents of the children concerned to advise them of progress and identify placements as they become available.
The new power to compel schools to make additional special education provision available has yet to be invoked. While the NCSE and the Department continue to encourage stakeholders to open special classes, the process under the admissions legislation will continue and may lead to interaction with education providers entering a more formal process.
In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.