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.
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 is continuing its work at local level to ensure all children can access a suitable school placement for the forthcoming school year and beyond.
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.
In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.
The brief for the school building project in the school referred to by the Deputy is to provide a new 1000 pupil post primary school and 4 class Special Educational Needs unit together with all ancillary accommodation on a site off the Ballyogan Road adjacent to Leopardstown Racecourse.
Planning permission was granted by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council on the 13th June 2019 subject to 18 conditions. Two of these conditions relating to the provision of a public greenway were subsequently the subject of a first party appeal to An Bord Pleanála, the decision on which is currently awaited.
It is not possible to give a timeframe for the delivery of this project until the statutory consents are secured.