Ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them is a key priority for me and the Government.
I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children where difficulties are encountered in securing a school place.
As Minister I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed.
The legislation provides for a very transparent series of steps which can ultimately lead to the issuing of a legally binding direction to a board of management.
The initial step in the process is for the NCSE to inform the Minister there is a shortage of places in a particular area.
The legislation was formally activated for the first time on April 18th following a report from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) outlining insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15.
The specific provision required was 8 additional primary ASD primary special classes and 40 special school places for students with complex needs.
There has been very intensive engagement between the NCSE, the Department and patron bodies and schools to address this issue.
To date, this has resulted in the establishing of the new Danu Community Special School in Dublin 15, under the patronage of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB catering for up to 40 students.
In addition, 4 ASD special classes have also been approved in mainstream primary schools the Dublin 15 area leaving a total of 4 classes still required
On 23 August, my Department issued a second statutory notice to six schools and their patron in the Dublin 15 area setting out the need to make more places available for children with special educational needs.
The notice confirms my opinion that the schools should make additional education provision available and outlines the steps to be taken, together with information on the supports available.
The schools and the patron have 14 days in which to make representations on foot of this notice.
The notice follows a series of steps that have been followed under strict rules set down under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by Section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018).
- April 18th - The legislation was formally activated following a report from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) outlining insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15.
- April 30th - I appealed to schools and patrons to make more provision for children with special education for September 2019.
- May 27th - I wrote to the principals and chairpersons of boards of management in 22 schools in Dublin 15 requesting that they give serious consideration to the need for more special education provision.
- May 28th - The establishment of the new Danu Community Special School, under the patronage of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB, was confirmed, with places for 40 children with special needs for the 2019/20 school year.
- June 27th - The Department served statutory notices under Section 37A (5) on 18 schools and 2 patrons in Dublin 15. These notices communicated my opinion that they should make additional provision for children with special educational needs.
- 30 July & 1 August – Consultations on the need for additional special education provision took place with two patron bodies.
- August 7th - Technical teams began site visits, with 10 schools initially, to carry out first-hand assessments of the accommodation available and consider its suitability for additional provision of special classes.
- August 23rd – Second legal notice served under Section 37A on 6 schools in Dublin 15, one of which has since agreed to establish a special class.
I would of course prefer to see children welcomed into a school without the need for legal compulsion.
However I am determined to do my utmost to ensure every child is allocated a school place, including using the provisions of the Education Act to direct schools to make additional provision.