I propose to take Questions Nos. 537 and 538 together.
I want to assure the Deputy and Parents that concerns regarding a shortage of appropriate school places for next September are being taken very seriously.
The National Council for Special education (NCSE), an independent agency of my Department, is responsible for planning, coordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. The Council 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 NCSE to establish a class. 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. In this regard, the SENO may approach individual schools to discuss the matter with a view to finding the optimal location in terms of convenience and sustainability.
When the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to reconfigure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation.
Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) who are locally based are available to assist and advice parents whose children have special needs. Where parents have been unsuccessful in enrolling their child in a school, they should update their local SENO to inform the planning process.
SENOs are also available to assist and advise schools on special education supports and planning.
The number of ASD special classes in County Dublin have increased from 66 in the 2011/2012 school year to 197 in the 2018/2019, a threefold increase. There are 15 ASD classes in the areas referred to by the Deputy: 2 Early Intervention classes, 8 Primary ASD classes and 5 Post-primary ASD classes.
Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available in tabular form by county on the NCSE website at https://ncse.ie/special-classes
From time to time, the NCSE identifies local areas where additional special class provision is required. In those circumstances, Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) work with the schools and families concerned to resolve the issues involved.
This process is ongoing and the NCSE are actively engaging with schools in relation to establishing ASD classes where there is an identified need for the 2019/2020 school year.
As a result of these efforts, I expect progress will be made in the coming weeks in ensuring that every child has a placement available to them.
I have asked the NCSE to keep in regular contact with the Parents of the children concerned and advise them of progress.
In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them is a key priority for me and my Department.