The provision of education for children with special needs, including those with Autism, 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 majority of children with Autism attend mainstream class, where they may access additional supports 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 may be deemed appropriate where placement in mainstream class is not in the best interests of the child.
Nationally, 167 new special classes opened this 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.
In Meath alone, there are 60 special classes and 3 Special Schools providing specialist support to children with more complex special educational needs.
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 every school.
Instead the NCSE 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 has planned further expansion of special class and school places in Meath to meet demand for the coming years, which will include additional primary special class provision.
It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, there is a range of supports including capital funding available to the school.
The NCSE team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise schools to plan for special class provision.
As the matter raised by the Deputy refers to a particular school, I have arranged for the Deputy's question to be forwarded to the National Council for Special Education for their attention and direct reply.