The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for Government.
Currently, almost 20% of the total Education Vote or €1.9bn is invested in supporting children with special needs. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants are at unprecedented levels. Nationally, 167 new special classes opened for the 2019/20 school year, which means there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD.
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, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE).
The Council has well established structures in place to plan and coordinate special education provision throughout the country. This includes identifying the need for and establishing special class placements in various geographical areas where they are required. The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
As approximately 1% of the school population require the support of a special class, it is not possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in the every school.
Before approaching a particular school to request the establishment of a special class, the NCSE take into account both present and future potential need within the area and must be satisfied that the class is sustainable and appropriately located.
The NCSE has informed the Department that, in general, they are satisfied that there are currently sufficient ASD special class placements to meet existing demand in Limerick.
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.
The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist parents to identify appropriate educational placements for children with special educational needs and to discuss their child's special educational needs. The local SENO contact details are available on 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.