Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for me and the Government.
Nearly one euro in every five of this budget, about €1.9 billion, is invested in supporting children with special educational needs in schools.
Since 2011, the Government has increased the number of Special education teachers from 9,740 to over 13,400 and the number of Special Needs Assistants from 10,575 to 15,950.
We have also increased the number of special classes from 548 in 2011 to 1,621 across the country now. 1,355 of these are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) special classes.
In addition places in the 124 special schools for students with the most complex special educational needs have increased from 6,848 to 8,000 across the country now.
This ensures that a continuum of special educational provision, including special class and special school placements, is made available for children with special educational needs, so that regardless of the level of need of the child, educational provision can be made for them.
In Co. Roscommon, there is currently 1 special school and 22 special classes in mainstream schools, including 2 ASD Early Intervention classes, 12 primary ASD classes and 4 ASD post primary ASD classes.
The greater proportion of children with autism attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports, including additional teaching and SNA support, if required.
But some students may find it difficult to manage full-time placement in mainstream and so placement in a Special Class or Special School setting is sometimes deemed more appropriate.
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.
This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where the NCSE identifies need.
The NCSE have well established structures to ensure that advance planning is in place so that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
It is open to any school to make application to the NCSE to establish a class where a need has been identified in their area.
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 will also approach individual schools in the area to discuss the matter with a view to finding the optimal location in terms of convenience and sustainability.
The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise schools to plan for special class provision and to address issues in provision that may arise from time in time at local levels.
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.
The NCSE Support Service delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support for teachers working with students with special educational needs in special classes.
Guidelines for Boards of Management and Principals of Primary and Post Primary schools contain information on setting up and organising special classes, including information on resources which may be provided to schools to establish special classes are available to download from www.ncse.ie.
As the Deputy's question relates to the NCSE planning for special class provision in a particular area I have arranged for the question to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.