I propose to take Questions Nos. 558 and 559 together.
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.
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.
There are currently sixteen special classes attached to mainstream primary and post-primary schools in Dublin 9 and Dublin 11, including 1 Early Intervention class, providing ASD placements for students in the area.
The NCSE is aware of an identified need for ASD classes at primary and post primary levels in the Dublin 9 and 11 areas and in the Fingal area as a whole. Through ongoing consultation at local level, the NCSE is also 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 to identify any and all relevant suitable placements.
The NCSE is working with a significant number of schools in this area to encourage and support the opening of new special classes at all levels and has specific plans in place to increase the number of places available.
I should also clarify that the NCSE does not maintain waiting lists for schools. Boards of management of individual schools are responsible for such enrolment matters.
My Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an education and I want to reassure you that the delivery of the necessary additional provision is being progressed as an absolute priority.
In circumstances, where no placement is available for a child with special educational needs, the Department can provide Home Tuition grant funding towards the provision of 20 hours home tuition per week as an interim measure until the NCSE confirms that a placement is available.
I can also reassure the Deputy that the local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) continue to be available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs. Parents may contact SENOs directly using the contact details available at: https://ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list.
Information on the list of schools with special classes is available at www.ncse.ie.