It is my belief that children with special educational needs should receive their education in placements which are appropriate to their needs alongside their peers wherever possible unless such an approach would be inconsistent with the best interests of the individual child or other children in the school.
This approach is consistent with the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004.
My Department's policy is therefore to provide for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools. The majority of children with special needs attend mainstream education with additional supports
This policy is supported by significant investment by 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.
Only where it has been assessed that the child is unable to be supported in mainstream education, are special class placements or special school placements recommended and provided for.
It is therefore not the case that special educational placements are required to support all children with special educational needs, nor is it intended that this should be the case.
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.
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.
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.
The NCSE is working with schools 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.
The Deputy will be aware of the process underway in South Dublin under Section 37A of the Education Act, 1998. Statutory notices issued under the Act together with the representations received from the schools and their patrons are published on my Department’s website.
I also announced the establishment of a new special school (Our Lady of Hope School) in Crumlin, Dublin 12 last December. Both the NCSE and my Department are working closely with the patron and the school's management team on the practical arrangements required to progress this project as speedily as possible, Minister Foley and I have also recently announced additional provision in Cork including the establishment of a new special school to help cater for demand in that area for September, 2021.
Finally, I can reassure the Deputy that the local Special Educational 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, the types and locations of these classes is published on the NCSE website and is available at www.ncse.ie