Every child must have the opportunity to avail of his or her right to education pursuant to their constitutional and legal rights and in accordance with their identified needs.
I am aware that there is a need for additional specialist education placements in a number of areas for next September.
In each of these areas, local Special Education Needs Officers are working with parents and schools to ensure that these placements become available.
The Government would prefer that schools provide the necessary places voluntarily.
The Minister has certain legal powers under 37A (2) of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by Section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018) to direct schools to make new places available.
The Act outlines a number of steps that must be taken before a school can be directed to make additional places available including:
- The National Council for Special Education must first form the opinion that there is an insufficient number of places in an area and write to the Minister outlining the reasons and type of placements required.
- If the Ministers agrees, he then serves a statutory notice on the schools identified who then have the right to make representations to the Minister.
- Statutory notices issued under the Act together with the representations received from the schools are published on the Department’s website.
- The Minister considers the representations and following any consultations with the patrons involve, he may issue a further statutory notice to the schools
Last April, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) issued a report under the Act to the Minister outlining a shortfall in the number of specialist education places required in the Dublin 15 area.
It is the formal activation of section 37A. This allows for the capacity of schools in an area to be tested and ultimately it can allow the Minister to issue a direction that requires a school to provide additional special education places.
On 28 June, I served statutory notice under the Act on 18 schools in Dublin, and their patron bodies, requesting that they make additional places available.
The 18 schools and their Patron bodies had 14 days to make representations to me in respect of the notices.
I am currently considering these representations and I have the option to consult further with the schools and their Patron bodies before further action is taken.