Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for me and the Government.
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 number of ASD special classes has more than doubled in the last 5 years from 511 in 2014 to 1,196 across the country now. Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has informed my Department that they intend to establish approx. 156 new ASD special classes nationally for 2019/20 school year to meet currently identified need.
The 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 NCSE ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
Individual school boards of management are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to make application to the National Council for Special education (NCSE) to establish a special class.
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.
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.
The NCSE is currently undertaking Policy Advice on Education Provision in Special Classes and Special Schools to examine whether placement in specialist settings brings about improved educational outcomes and experiences, relative to their ability, for students with special educational needs. This Policy Advice is to be completed and a report submitted to the Minister no later than June 2020.
Parents who need assistance/advice or who are experiencing difficulties in locating a specialised placement, should contact their local SENO. All local SENO the contact details are available on the NCSE website at http://ncse.ie/seno-contact-list
Ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.