I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 to 124, inclusive, together.
The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government. Currently, we spend almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn on supporting children with special needs.
The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants are at unprecedented levels and so too is the number of children receiving support across the continuum that includes mainstream classes, special classes and schools. Our commitment is to provide each child with an education in accordance with his/her need.
An additional 1,050 specialised places have been provided this school year, with 167 new special classes. This brings the total number of special class places to over 9,700, almost a trebling provision since 2011. Over 80% of these are ASD special class places.
125 special schools also provide specialist education for students with complex special educational needs including ASD. These schools now provide over 8,000 places compared to 6,848 in 2011.
Budget 2020 provides for an additional 1,064 SNA posts and 400 new special education teacher posts to cater for new need next year.
Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs including special classes for Autism are available by county on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie.
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.
The Council has well established structures in place to plan and coordinate special education provision throughout the country.
Normally, special classes are established with the full cooperation of the schools in areas where they are required.
However there are some parts of the country where the Council faced challenges in getting schools and their Patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places.
I know that this has caused much anguish for parents and families involved.
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 was used for the first time back in April in respect of the Dublin 15 area.
We have made significant progress in a relatively short period with the opening 7 new special classes and a new Special School that will provide 88 places for children with special needs.
The new places will help these families and ensure that the children concerned have access to education.
The experience of Dublin 15 shows the real and practical challenges that can be addressed when opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership.
The NCSE is continuing its work at local level to ensure all children can access a suitable school placement for the forthcoming school year and beyond.
As Minister, I would much prefer that schools provide places for children in their community. Where this is not the case, I am prepared to use the legislation to ensure that children can access a suitable education.