Ensuring that every child has a suitable school placement is a key objective of my Department. Significant resources are allocated each year to ensure that appropriate supports are available for children with special educational needs.
Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased almost threefold, from 548 to 1,618 for the 2019/2020 school year; with 1,353 of these catering for children with autism.
There are 195 special classes and 13 special schools in the Cork area providing specialist support to children with more complex special educational needs.
A list of special classes for September 2019 is available on the NCSE website.
Budget 2020 provided for an additional 265 special class teachers in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional classes where required.
The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide; has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents; and seeks to ensure 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 an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, a range of supports, including capital funding, is made available to the school. My Department works closely with the NCSE in this regard.
The NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and school places nationally, including Cork, to meet identified need for next year. This process is ongoing.
Normally, special class and school places 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 NCSE has faced challenges in getting schools and their patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or school places. I know that this can cause much anguish for parents and families involved.
As Minister I have power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. This legislation has been used to good effect in the recent past.
The NCSE has recently advised that there is a shortage of a small number of special class places in certain areas in Co Cork, largely due to geographic reasons rather than a shortage in the county as a whole. The NCSE is seeking to accommodate these students in schools in the surrounding areas.
The NCSE's Local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs in relation to special class provision.
As the Deputy's question relates to a special class placement for an individual pupil, this has been referred to the NCSE for direct reply.