Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (382)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

382. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education her plans for the safe reopening of schools; the advice that the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, has given on the subject; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8152/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government has always been guided by public health advice in relation to the safe operation of schools. The decision to delay the reopening of schools was in recognition of the need to reduce societal activity and movement to curb the spread of the virus at a time where there was unprecedented levels of disease transmission in the community. This was not based on a changed assessment of the risks in relation to transmission levels in schools.

Public Health has consistently advised that schools are safe places for both students and staff because of the infection control measures in place in our schools. Public Health have also stated that the new variants of the disease do not change the infection prevention and control measures required in schools. Schools have been supported by a funding package of €450m to put in place and maintain these key measures. Public Health advice is that compliance with these measures ensure that schools remain safe places for children and staff.

My Department has agreed a plan with education stakeholders for the phased return to in-person learning for children in special schools and children in special classes in mainstream schools. This phased reopening commenced last Thursday 11th February with children in special schools returning on a 50 per cent minimum shared basis from that date.

The full re-opening of our schools for all students remains a top priority for Government and my Department is focussing on the safe return of all pupils and students to school on a phased basis in March.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (383)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

383. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Education the amount her Department has spent on legal costs arising from litigation involving children with special educational needs in each of the years 2010 to 2020, respectively. [8166/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It should be noted by the Deputy that my Department does not initiate such proceedings and cases are generally only litigated where no potential settlement is acceptable to both sides and the Government's authority to decide issues of education policy is in question. My Department does not take lightly any decision to defend cases concerning children with special educational needs. Therefore, my Department is not complacent in dealing with these cases and attempts, wherever possible, to reduce the potential for litigation and the levels of legal costs that arise.

Legal costs incurred by the State in defending proceedings instigated against the Department, are not met directly by the Department. In accordance with financial procedures in cases involving damages or compensation against the State, costs are generally charged to the Chief State Solicitor's Office Vote as sanctioned by the Attorney General. The Department may be required to meet the legal costs of Applicants/Plaintiffs where there is a settlement or an order for costs against the State in cases where my Department is a named party.

Please see Table below which details any such Legal Cost contributions to Applicants/Plaintiffs for the years 2010 to 2020, which are readily available to my Department.

It should be noted by the Deputy that in some years my Department also received reimbursements of legal costs from various parties, including contributions towards such costs from State co-defendants, involved in the litigation process. These reimbursements have been taken account of in the figures provided, as applicable.

YEAR

Total expenditure for SEN Litigation Legal Costs

2010

€649,239.75

2011

€622,159.30

2012

€172,665.85

2013

€69,888.86

2014

€115,929.90

2015

€117,465.00

2016

Nil

2017

Nil

2018

€69,147.50

2019

€19,875.00

2020

€172,084.51

Special Educational Needs

Questions (384, 413, 414, 416)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

384. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Education the estimated costs of implementing sections (details supplied) of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8167/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

413. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education the estimated costs of fully implementing sections (details supplied) of the National Council for Special Education Implementation Report Plan for the Phased Implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8349/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

414. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education the estimated cost of fully implementing sections (details supplied) of the National Council for Special Education Implementation Report Plan for the Phased Implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8360/21]

View answer

Holly Cairns

Question:

416. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education when clauses (details supplied) of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 will be commenced; the reason for the delays in commencement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8362/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 384, 413, 414 and 416 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 have been commenced. The commenced provisions include those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those providing for an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs.

The following sections of the EPSEN Act were commenced in 2005:

Section 1 – Interpretation;

Section 2 - providing for the inclusive education of children with Special Educational Needs;

Section 14 – placing certain duties on schools;

Sections 19 to 37 - placing the Council on a statutory footing;

Section 39 - placing certain duties on Health Boards;

Sections 40 to 53 - amending the Education Act;

Schedule 1 – providing for meetings and membership of the Council; and

Schedule 2 providing for the Chief Executive Officer of the Council.

The remaining sections of the Act have yet to be commenced.

The Sections of the EPSEN Act which have not been implemented are those which would have conferred a statutory entitlement to:

- an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs;

- consequent development of a statutory individual educational plan (IEP);

- the delivery of detailed educational services on foot of this plan; and

- an independent appeals process.

The NCSE estimated, in its Plan for the Implementation of the EPSEN Act Report, which was published in 2006, that additional investment over a period of years of up to €235m per annum, across the education and health sectors, would be required to fully implement the EPSEN Act.

The view of my Department, at the time, was that the level of investment required could be significantly greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. Legal advice also indicated that the EPSEN Act, as it is currently constituted, may not be implemented on a phased, or age cohort, basis.

Revised estimates of the amount of additional expenditure required to fully implement the remaining sections of the EPSEN Act, including the individual sections of the Act referred to by the Deputy, have not recently been conducted. The estimated level of additional expenditure required, to implement the outstanding sections of the Act, would have to take into account annual demographic growth and service developments in the area of special educational needs, pricing adjustments and salary cost differentials on an ongoing basis. Estimates would also have to be made as to the number of pupils who may now currently qualify for the statutory service provisions envisaged by the EPSEN Act.

The Government is committed to helping every child, particularly those with special educational needs, to fulfil their potential.

In 2021, the Department of Education and Skills will invest approximately €2 Billion in the area of special educational needs support - 1/5 of the Department's budget and up over 42% since 2011.

The Government has committed to consulting with stakeholders on how best to progress aspects of the EPSEN Act on a non-statutory basis.

A range of consultations with Education Partners and Stakeholders took place in relation to the development of a new model for allocating special education teachers over the course of 2017. The new model was introduced for all schools from September 2017.

Further consultations took place with education partners and stakeholders in the context of the undertaking of a comprehensive review of the SNA scheme and will continue in relation to the implementation of recommendations contained in this report.

Additional powers have also been provided to the National Council for Special Educational to designate a school place for a person with special educational needs, which is now provided for in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

While awaiting the full implementation of the EPSEN Act, the NCSE has also published a number of policy advice papers which make recommendations aimed at developing a better or more effective alternative to the current resource allocation model, and which aims to move the system towards ultimate implementation of the EPSEN Act.

It should also be noted, however, that since EPSEN was enacted, the Department’s policy on supporting children with special educational needs has changed and evolved on foot of evidence based policy advice from the NCSE which takes account of international perspectives.

Significantly, the focus of special needs education provision has changed from a model that is diagnosis led to one which is driven by the needs of the child. This is a substantially different view to the one underlying the EPSEN Act. The levels of investment by Government in special education has increased to facilitate the underlying reforms required to implement and embed the needs based approach.

This Government will continue to prioritise investment in the area of special education support. Ongoing investment and reform will continue to see improvements made in this area.

I have also indicated that one of my priorities as Minister for Special Education and Inclusion is:

Updating our Laws: Reviewing and updating the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act.

Any review of the Act will take into account the extent of additional investment which has been made in special educational services since 2004, with some €2 Billion per year now being spent of special educational supports.

It will also take into account the range of reforms which have taken place in recent years including the development of new allocation models which are not based primarily on a response to assessment as policy advice has indicated that requirement of diagnosis can create a risk of children being diagnosed as having a special educational need for resource allocation purposes, rather than for health reasons. Also, that as there is a spectrum of ability and disability within every special education disability category, account must be taken of need, as well as diagnosis.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (385)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

385. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Education if her Department has considered the introduction of a dedicated scheme to ensure that children and young persons who have missed out on educational and related benefits are enabled to catch up after the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided; her plans to target supports at vulnerable children and young persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8172/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

During the current period of school closure, schools are required to put in place their plan of action to enable continuity of learning for all pupils. This involves all teachers who are medically fit to work, including SETs, providing remote teaching and learning to all pupils in their class or on their caseload.

It is crucially important that the learning of all pupils/students, especially those with special educational needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage and/or early school leaving, are supported at this time. These supports include teachers engaging with their pupils/students on a regular basis, through a blend of guided and independent learnings tasks and experiences. Chosen learning tasks provide an opportunity to demonstrate a student’s learning in a clear and concise way. These learning tasks enable teachers to monitor progress and provide constructive, developmental feedback to support learning.

When pupils have started back in school, the principal and teachers can assess their needs and adapt their teaching programme so that any gaps in their learning resulting from the temporary closure of schools can be addressed.

My Department has agreed a plan with the relevant education stakeholders for the phased return to in-person learning for children in special schools and children in special classes in mainstream schools. This phased reopening commenced last Thursday 11th February with children in special schools returning on a 50 per cent minimum shared basis from that date. From Monday 22nd February pupils and students in special classes will return to school.

A supplementary in-person care and educational support programme to support the education and/or care needs of pupils and students with complex needs is also available to families for weeks from 11 February at primary and 22 February at post primary.

The full re-opening of our schools for all students remains a top priority for Government and my Department is focussing on mitigating educational disadvantage and the safe return of all pupils and students to school on a phased basis in March.

Special Educational Needs Staff

Questions (386)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

386. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education the accreditation level that special needs assistants will receive upon completion of the national training programme certificate in inclusive school support in UCD, for example, level 5, 6 or 7. [8190/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme (SNAs) was published by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in 2018. The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs including the need for training.

A new national training programme for SNAs currently employed in recognised schools was developed on foot of the Review's recommendations. Following a public procurement process, University College Dublin (UCD) School of Education, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, were selected to develop and deliver this important educational initiative. UCD's wide-ranging experience and expertise will enable the delivery of a broad-ranging and high-quality programme. This programme began in January 2021 with 500 participants in the first year. Priority was given to SNAs working in School Inclusion Pilot Schools. In total, there are 3,500 places available on the programme over the next four years.

This major educational initiative will enhance the knowledge, skills and expertise of SNAs whose work is central to the inclusion of students with additional care and complex needs in school life. For some SNAs, this programme may present the first opportunity in recent times for them to engage with the theory and research based best practice underlying their role. Completion of the programme may serve as a stepping stone to further education opportunities in the area.

Each participant who completes the programme successfully will receive a certificate from UCD School of Education.

There is no cost to serving SNAs working in schools. This course is fully funded by the Department of Education and Skills.

Schools Building Projects

Questions (387)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

387. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education the position regarding the ongoing discussions between South Dublin County Council and her Department on building a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8210/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I can confirm that the Department of Education and South Dublin County Council have reached agreement in principle on the transfer of a site within the SDZ to which you refer. We presently await confirmation of necessary internal approvals from SDCC to dispose of the site after which we would expect legal conveyancing to commence. It would be our intention to advance the architectural planning process in tandem with said legal conveyancing.

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to divulge anything further at this point, but we are committed to making further public announcements, when appropriate.

Departmental Consultations

Questions (388)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

388. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education her plans to liaise with An Garda Síochána to implement an Operation Encompass-style support for children who have experienced domestic abuse as exists in the UK; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8211/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I understand that the Operation Encompass Programme involves the police sharing information with a child’s school where there has been a domestic incident at the child’s home the previous day. A member of staff in the school could then ensure that the child was given the appropriate support during the school day.

The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have convened an Inter-Departmental Group, which includes representatives from my Department, Tusla and An Garda Síochána, to explore the feasibility of the introduction of a programme in Ireland similar to Operation Encompass in England and Wales.

My officials will continue to work as part of this Inter-Departmental Group to consider whether a similar programme can be implemented in Ireland.

Schools Building Projects

Questions (389)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

389. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education when a permanent building for a school (details supplied) will be provided to alleviate the crisis in school places in the locality; if the tender for this school has been issued; if not, the timescale for issuing this tender; when the temporary accommodation for the school previously promised for September 2020 will be delivered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8212/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The building project referred to by the Deputy is being delivered under my Department’s Design and Build Programme. The tender process to establish a new Design & Build Contractors Framework commenced on the 4th December 2019. The second stage of the tender process which involves the detailed tender for several schools has commenced and is expected to be concluded in Quarter 1 2021.

The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is included in the first bundle of projects currently being tendered to this new Framework. This is the earliest that the project can be tendered.

It is my Department's intention that the construction of the new 1,000 pupil school will be phased to provide permanent accommodation as early as possible in the 2021/22 school year with the second phase of the new school being completed as early as possible in the 2022/23 school year.

Regarding the interim accommodation for the school, I can confirm that the contractor started on site on 9 December 2020 and the proposed handover of this accommodation is early March.

My Department will continue to keep the school authority updated in relation to the project.

School Staff

Questions (390)

Cathal Crowe

Question:

390. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Education if the rule that dictates teachers returning to school can only avail of the special amendment to take parental leave, in which their child is under 13 years of age and they do not have childcare, can be changed in view of the fact that some parents have children with special needs in their teenage years and cannot find appropriate care for them. [8222/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Parental Leave Scheme is regulated by the Parental Leave Act 1998, as amended. The Parental Leave Scheme for teachers is contained in Chapter 5 of my Department’s Circular Letter 54/2019. An eligible teacher is entitled to up to a maximum of 26 weeks Parental Leave in respect of each child up to the age of 13 years or the age of 16 years in the case of a child with a disability and/or long-term illness.

In relation to the pattern of Parental Leave, paragraph 4.1 of the Parental Leave Scheme states:

4.1 A teacher may avail of Parental Leave in blocks of at least one week up to a maximum of 22 weeks (26 weeks from 1st September 2020). Please note each period of Parental Leave must be a minimum duration of 7 consecutive days including weekends, school closures and days on which a teacher is not timetabled for attendance occurring within that period.

With regard to the partial re-opening of special schools and special classes at primary and post primary level this month, my Department recently published Information Note 0001/2021 for primary teachers and Information Note 0003/2021 for post primary teachers which details the temporary changes to specific leave schemes and other temporary arrangements during this period.

My Department has made temporary changes to specific terms and conditions of the Parental Leave Scheme, including the pattern of Parental Leave, during this period.

In this regard, paragraph 2.2 (b) and 2.2(c) of Information Note 0001/2021 and Information Note 0003/2021 states the following:

2.2 (b) A teacher may be unable to attend the workplace on certain days during this period, due to specific circumstances. An employer may, having considered the circumstances, approve Parental Leave in blocks of less than one week, where the teacher is eligible to apply for Parental Leave.

2.2 (c) Prior to the approval of such a Parental Leave arrangement, the employer and the teacher must agree in advance, the pattern of workplace attendance, during this period of partial re-opening.

Therefore, where a teacher is eligible to apply for Parental Leave, he/she may make application to their employer for a pattern of Parental Leave on a temporary basis, as detailed at paragraph 2.2(b) and 2.2(c) of my Department’s Information Notes.

Special Educational Needs

Question No. 396 answered with Question No. 369.

Questions Nos. 397 and 398 answered with Question No. 391.

Questions (391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 397, 398)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

391. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing section 13 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8223/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

392. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 10 and 17 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8224/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

393. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing section 14 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8226/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

394. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing section 8 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8227/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

395. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing section 39 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8229/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

397. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 3 to 7, inclusive, 9 and 18 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8231/21]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

398. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education if she has established the estimated costs of fully implementing sections 11, 12, 15, 16 and 38 of the EPSEN Act 2004; if so, the estimated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8232/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 391 to 395, inclusive, 397 and 398 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that a number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 have been commenced. The commenced provisions include those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those providing for an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs.

The following sections of the EPSEN Act were commenced in 2005.

Section 1 – Interpretation;

Section 2 - providing for the inclusive education of children with Special Educational Needs;

Section 14 – placing certain duties on schools;

Sections 19 to 37 - placing the Council on a statutory footing;

Section 39 - placing certain duties on Health Boards;

Sections 40 to 53 - amending the Education Act;

Schedule 1 – providing for meetings and membership of the Council; and

Schedule 2 providing for the Chief Executive Officer of the Council.

The remaining sections of the Act have yet to be commenced.

The Sections of the EPSEN Act which have not been implemented are those which would have conferred a statutory entitlement to:

- an educational assessment for all children with special educational needs;

- consequent development of a statutory individual educational plan (IEP);

- the delivery of detailed educational services on foot of this plan; and

- an independent appeals process.

The NCSE estimated, in its Plan for the Implementation of the EPSEN Act Report, which was published in 2006, that additional investment over a period of years of up to €235m per annum, across the education and health sectors, would be required to fully implement the EPSEN Act.

The view of my Department, at the time, was that the level of investment required could be significantly greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. Legal advice also indicated that the EPSEN Act, as it is currently constituted, may not be implemented on a phased, or age cohort, basis.

Revised estimates of the amount of additional expenditure required to fully implement the remaining sections of the EPSEN Act, including the individual sections of the Act referred to by the Deputy, have not recently been conducted. The estimated level of additional expenditure required, to implement the outstanding sections of the Act, would have to take into account annual demographic growth and service developments in the area of special educational needs, pricing adjustments and salary cost differentials on an ongoing basis. Estimates would also have to be made as to the number of pupils who may now currently qualify for the statutory service provisions envisaged by the EPSEN Act.

The Government is committed to helping every child, particularly those with special educational needs, to fulfil their potential.

In 2021 the Department of Education and Skills will invest approximately €2 Billion in the area of special educational needs support - 1/5 of the Department's budget and up over 42% since 2011.

The Government has committed to consulting with stakeholders on how best to progress aspects of the EPSEN Act on a non-statutory basis.

A range of consultations with Education Partners and Stakeholders took place in relation to the development of a new model for allocating special education teachers over the course of 2017. The new model was introduced for all schools from September 2017.

Further consultations took place with education partners and stakeholders in the context of the undertaking of a comprehensive review of the SNA scheme and will continue in relation to the implementation of recommendations contained in this report.

Additional powers have also been provided to the National Council for Special Educational to designate a school place for a person with special educational needs, which is now provided for in the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018.

While awaiting the full implementation of the EPSEN Act, the NCSE has also published a number of policy advice papers which make recommendations aimed at developing a better or more effective alternative to the current resource allocation model, and which aims to move the system towards ultimate implementation of the EPSEN Act.

It should also be noted, however, that since EPSEN was enacted, the Department’s policy on supporting children with special educational needs has changed and evolved on foot of evidence based policy advice from the NCSE which takes account of international perspectives.

Significantly, the focus of special needs education provision has changed from a model that is diagnosis led to one which is driven by the needs of the child. This is a substantially different view to the one underlying the EPSEN Act. The levels of investment by Government in special education has increased to facilitate the underlying reforms required to implement and embed the needs based approach.

This Government will continue to prioritise investment in the area of special education support. Ongoing investment and reform will continue to see improvements made in this area.

I have also indicated that one of my priorities as Minister for Special Education and Inclusion is: Updating our Laws: Reviewing and updating the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act.

Any review of the Act will take into account the extent of additional investment which has been made in special educational services since 2004, with some €2 Billion per year now being spent of special educational supports.

It will also take into account the range of reforms which have taken place in recent years including the development of new allocation models which are not based primarily on a response to assessment as policy advice has indicated that requirement of diagnosis can create a risk of children being diagnosed as having a special educational need for resource allocation purposes, rather than for health reasons. Also, that as there is a spectrum of ability and disability within every special education disability category, account must be taken of need, as well as diagnosis.

Question No. 396 answered with Question No. 369.
Questions Nos. 397 and 398 answered with Question No. 391.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (399)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

399. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Education if an additional special needs class will be provided for a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8234/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government. The Department of Education will spend approximately €2 Billion or over 20% of its total educational budget in 2021 on making additional provision for children with special educational needs this year.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements.

NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and special school places nationally, to meet identified need. This process is ongoing.

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.

Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places.

Through better planning at both national and local level, it is my objective that specialist education places should come on stream to meet emerging demand on a timely basis. However, the active collaboration of school communities is essential in this regard.

Through ongoing consultation at local level the NCSE is aware of those parents whose children will be seeking placement for the 2021/22 academic year, including mainstream placement with appropriate support, special class placement, Early Intervention and special school placement. The NCSE continues to work at local level to identify any and all relevant suitable placements.

The local SENO is currently liaising with the school referred to by the Deputy, as part of ongoing contact with schools in the area on the provision of ASD special classes to meet local demand.

I can also reassure the Deputy that the local SENOs continue to be available to assist and advise parents of children with special educational needs.

Departmental Legal Costs

Questions (400)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

400. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education the amount her Department has spent on legal costs arising from litigation involving children with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8235/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It should be noted by the Deputy that my Department does not initiate such proceedings and cases are generally only litigated where no potential settlement is acceptable to both sides and the Government's authority to decide issues of education policy is in question. My Department does not take lightly any decision to defend cases concerning children with special educational needs. Therefore, my Department is not complacent in dealing with these cases and attempts, wherever possible, to reduce the potential for litigation and the levels of legal costs that arise.

Legal costs incurred by the State in defending proceedings instigated against the Department, are not met directly by the Department. In accordance with financial procedures in cases involving damages or compensation against the State, costs are generally charged to the Chief State Solicitor's Office Vote as sanctioned by the Attorney General. The Department may be required to meet the legal costs of Applicants/Plaintiffs where there is a settlement or an order for costs against the State in cases where my Department is a named party.

Please see Table below which details any such Legal Cost contributions to Applicants/Plaintiffs for the years 2010 to 2020, which are readily available to my Department.

It should be noted by the Deputy that in some years my Department also received reimbursements of legal costs from various parties, including contributions towards such costs from State co-defendants, involved in the litigation process. These reimbursements have been taken account of in the figures provided, as applicable.

YEAR

Total expenditure for SEN Litigation Legal Costs

2010

€649,239.75

2011

€622,159.30

2012

€172,665.85

2013

€69,888.86

2014

€115,929.90

2015

€117,465.00

2016

Nil

2017

Nil

2018

€69,147.50

2019

€19,875.00

2020

€172,084.51

Schools Building Projects

Questions (401)

Joan Collins

Question:

401. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Education the plans by her Department to provide additional facilities to a school (details supplied). [8245/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department approved the amalgamation of the schools in question and approved significant capital funding under the Additional School Accommodation (ASA) scheme for a project which has been devolved to the school authority for delivery. The school authority agreed a project brief which consists of significant additions in terms of mainstream and specialist teaching accommodation, but does not include a new PE Hall or other ancillary accommodation, as this does not fall under the remit of the ASA scheme.

As the Deputy is aware, the immediate priority of my Department is providing 20,000 new and replacement school places each year, to ensure that every child has access to a physical school place.

Under the National Development Plan (NDP), increased funding has been provided for the school sector capital investment programme. This funding allows for a continued focus on the provision of new permanent school places to keep pace with demographic demand and also provides for an additional focus on the refurbishment of existing school buildings, to include the building and modernisation of PE facilities in post-primary schools.

The government is committed to a PE Hall build and modernisation programme, starting in the second half of the Project Ireland 2040 period. Therefore, the school's application for funding for a PE Hall and other ancillary accommodation cannot be considered at this time.

School Staff

Question No. 403 answered with Question No. 372.

Questions (402)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

402. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Education the provisions being put in place for special needs assistants due back to school on 22 February as part of the provision of special education in circumstances in which they cannot access childcare for their children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8263/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

Following intensive engagement and input from primary and special education partners, a framework has now been developed and agreed with all partners, including unions and management, in order to achieve a phased return to in-school provision for children with the most complex special educational needs.

Under the framework the following phased return to in-school provision has been agreed:

Phase 1: Special schools will reopen from Thursday 11th February 2021. In accordance with this agreement pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.

Phase 2: Primary and Post-Primary Special Classes will reopen from Monday 22nd February 2021.

Guidance documents have issued to schools in advance of this reopening, including updated public health guidance and a framework document which outlines temporary time-bound staffing arrangements, the application of substitution arrangements, time-bound temporary arrangements for pupil attendance, information on school transport options, childcare provision and other matters.

The guidance outlines that childcare facilities remain open to provide childcare for children of essential workers, including SNAs. The Department Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has provided FAQs and information on subsidies that may be available for education sector staff, including SNA's, under the National Childcare Scheme is available on www.ncs.gov.ie.

In addition greater flexibility in the use of existing parental leave days has also been put in place for SNAs during this limited interim phase.

Question No. 403 answered with Question No. 372.

Psychological Assessments

Questions (404)

Robert Troy

Question:

404. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education if an application for a psychological assessment will be expedited for a person (details supplied). [8275/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

The purpose of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs, is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children with special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability.

Children are eligible for transport where they have special educational needs arising from a diagnosed disability and are attending the nearest recognised mainstream school, special class/special school or a unit that is or can be resourced, to meet their special educational needs.

In general, children with special educational needs are eligible for school transport if they are attending the nearest school that is resourced to meet their special educational needs. Eligibility is determined following consultation with the National Council for Special Education through its network of Special Education Needs Organisers (SENO).

The child referred to by the Deputy is eligible for school transport under the terms of the above scheme and had previously been availing of a shared service.

The most recent recommendation from the SENO for the provision of an individual service for this pupil is currently being assessed by School Transport Section.

In the meantime, the family may avail of the Special Transport Grant towards the cost of making private transport arrangements.

State Examinations

Questions (405, 406, 407)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

405. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Education if leaving certificate 2021 students will be permitted to sit select papers on the traditional paper following the release of predicted grades; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8283/21]

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Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

406. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Education if all aspects of the 2021 leaving certificate examination, including projects and oral examinations, are to be omitted in the event of a predicted grade choice; if not, if students can choose a combined approach; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8285/21]

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Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

407. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Education if school profiling will be applied to the 2021 leaving certificate arrangements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8286/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 405 to 407, inclusive, together.

On Wednesday, 17 February, I confirmed that Leaving Certificate 2021 written examinations will proceed in accordance with the normal timetable, subject to public health advice, and that oral and practical examinations and coursework would run as close to normal as possible. I also announced that students will also have the alternative option of applying for grades accredited by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), to be known as SEC-Accredited Grades, which will be issued to students at the same time as the examination results. Students who receive grades from both processes will automatically be awarded the higher grade on a subject by subject basis.

This decision follows intensive engagement with education stakeholders, both bilaterally and through the Advisory Group on Planning for State Examinations 2021.

This decision announced ensures for every student a method to assess their learning and attainment at the end of their post-primary education and to progress to higher and further education, and the world of work.

Putting in place both the examinations and a corresponding measure of SEC-Accredited Grades is essential to ensuring a fair system, having regard to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and the loss of learning that has occurred for this group of students due to the interruption of in-person teaching and learning during the periods of school closure.

Students will be required to register for the traditional examinations and/or to receive SEC Accredited Grades. Registration for both will take place through an online Student Portal operated by the SEC. Details regarding registration will be announced as soon as possible.

The timetable for the written examinations in June will be published shortly by the State Examinations Commission. As far as possible, access to these examinations will be provided for very high risk students.

Schools will receive guidance, informed by public health advice, on organising examination centres for the June examinations.

Oral examinations will be held during the Easter holidays or shortly after. Practical examinations will be held in most of the subjects where these form a normal part of the examination. In some subjects the holding of practical examinations may not be possible for public health reasons and this will be advised as soon as possible. Guidance on projects will issue to schools and students shortly.

Guidelines and further information on the process of SEC Accredited Grades will be published in the coming days. This will include a full guide for schools and an explanatory guide for students.

The results of the traditional examinations and the SEC Accredited Grades process are intended to be issued in time for CAO Round 1 offers. Where students opt to receive SEC accredited grades and to take the normal examinations, they will be awarded the better grades across the two forms of assessment, on a subject by subject basis.