Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an cheist. Aontaím leis faoin éileamh atá ann maidir le feitheamh agus faoin éileamh atá ann i measc tuismitheoirí i ndáil leis an cheist seo. Tá sé iontach tábhachtach go mbeidh réiteach ar an cheist seo san am atá amach romhainn.
My Department's policy aims to ensure that all children with special needs can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in mainstream school settings. In 2018, in the region of €1.75 billion was invested in special education, nearly one fifth of the overall education budget, and up 43% since 2011.
This funding includes provision for over 13,400 special education teachers in mainstream schools. It also provides for 15,000 special needs assistants, SNAs, to support the care needs of pupils with disabilities in an educational context, up 42% since 2011.
Provision is also made for special school and special class placements for pupils who require more specialist interventions. There are now 1,459 special classes with over 140 new special classes opened for the 2018-19 school year. This compares to 548 special classes in 2011.
I am satisfied that the level of provision we have made in recent years has ensured that all children with special educational needs can participate in education and that most children with special needs have been able to be enrolled in the school or placement of their choice. I am also conscious that there are gaps and that there are parents and children for whom we need to continue to be vigilant and for whom we need to find places as well. There are circumstances where it can be difficult for parents to obtain the school or special class placement of their choice where increases in population or other issues have led to pressure on school places.
The National Council for Special Education is actively engaging with schools, patron bodies, parents and other staff to try to ensure each child has a school placement appropriate to his or her needs for the 2019-20 school year. Ensuring every child has access to a suitable school placement is a priority for me and my Department and we will continue to ensure that this can be provided for.