“That Dáil Éireann:
— many parents of children with special needs are facing considerable difficulties in securing school places for their children, despite the school year having started already;
— of the 1,622 special classes in place, 849 are primary autism spectrum disorder (ASD) classes while only 370 post-primary ASD classes are in mainstream schools;
— removing the Home Tuition Grant, when school places are unsuitable for special needs children with other medical complications, can be unfair;
— some special schools have been awaiting a new building for up to 13 years;
— 384 children are in receipt of the Home Tuition Grant, many because they have not been able to secure a school place;
— the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has already informed the Minister for Education and Skills that parents in South Dublin and Cork are having trouble securing school places for their children;
— in the Dublin area, the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) schools, provide a disproportionate number of school places by comparison with non-DEIS schools;
— in the neighbouring regions of Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 6 West, the ratio of available places to children with ASD is 1:782, while the national average is 1:100;
— in all areas of the country there are children who travel very long distances to secure suitable school places; and
— the Home Tuition Grant scheme application forms were published a full two weeks later in 2019 than the previous year;
further notes that:
— there are no official figures on the number of children with special needs who do not have an appropriate school place;
— 22 per cent of special schools are on a list for large-scale projects by comparison with 9 per cent of mainstream schools;
— according to a recent survey 84 per cent of parents of children with disabilities believe that their children do not get the therapies that they need due to long waiting lists or unfilled positions;
— many parents are frustrated by the information made available by the NCSE;
— the Minister for Education and Skills has the power under the Education Act, 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed;
— many applications for home tuition remain to be dealt with for this school year; and
— many appeals in respect of reduced SNA provision remain to be dealt with;
— the advice of clinicians and the wishes of parents should be a priority for the delivery of education to children with special needs;
— no child should experience a delay in the start of their school year because of administrative issues;
— even in the Dublin 15 area where the Government believes it has resolved the issue, schools and special classes remain unopened;
— teachers should be provided with the resources and training they need to uphold every child’s right to an education;
— DEIS schools should not be tasked disproportionately with providing special classes;
— the failure to collect information on the educational outcomes of children with special needs across all outcomes is not the right policy to follow and has led to a lack of oversight;
and calls on the Government to:
— urgently resolve the issues which have been officially identified in Cork and South Dublin;
— commit to an appropriate amount of special classes in each administrative area and to publish an implementation plan as urgently as possible;
— urgently engage with unions to ensure that all Individual Education Plans are in place for every child;
— produce a rationale for the gap which exists in funding for children with special needs at primary and secondary level schools and commit to closing that gap;
— prioritise the construction of special schools on the Department of Education and Skills project list;
— issue a circular outlining the financial resources and staff training available to schools who wish to open a new special class;
— produce a five year forecast of the current and future need for special needs education places in the catchment area of each school and to communicate this demand to schools within each area and within six months;
— publish a list, by school, each June of all available school places in ASD units for the coming school year;
— commit to using the powers contained within the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 where implementation plans deem it necessary;
— have an appropriate inspection regime in respect of special classes; and
— commit to the publication of an annual report on the number and circumstances of students with special educational needs, and the number whose needs are not being met by the education system and why.
Tógfaidh mise sé nóiméad. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas le mo chomhghleacaithe i Fianna Fáil de bharr an cinneadh a dhéanamh díospóireacht a thógáil ar an ábhar seo inniu. Is díospóireacht an-tábhachtach é seo. This issue of special education is not going away. It is to the fore of what Fianna Fáil is trying to be about in education. It is crucial to ensure that the constitutional right to primary education, and education in general, is upheld and vindicated for each and every one of our children.
It is worth recalling how farsighted Mr. de Valera was when the Constitution was being written that this particular right was inserted. It was not a common right at the time. It was inserted in the Soviet constitution the year before and there were also some mentions of it in German legislation in the previous century but this was a radical departure and it remains the only socioeconomic right that is directly justiciable from the Constitution. We should bear that in mind at all times when we talk about a child's education. This is not like what the Corbynites in the UK are proposing in a national educational service they want. We want to make sure that each child has their right to education, granted to them in the Constitution, vindicated in the type of society to which we aspire in this country. There is a continued failure within our education system. Many children with special needs are experiencing a system which was described by parents and a teacher on "Prime Time" as a containment policy, one which focused on containment rather than education. That is a devastating analysis by the parents and teacher in question but it is a fact for many children in our education system.
This motion seeks to create a pathway to a system where all children vindicate their right to education through the introduction of increased monitoring, better planning for future demand and the completion of reforms to which the Government has already said it is committed but upon which it has not yet acted.
I have no doubt that the Minister will talk about the funding that he has allocated but that is the easy part. Funding is paid by the taxpayers and provided to the Government, people have no choice but to pay and the Government allocates the funds. The key test of a Government is how it spends and plans for that money and ensures the best value for the taxpayers and citizens of this country. This Government is failing to do that in special education. For example, we do not know how many children with special educational needs are in the educational system, nor how many are on reduced timetables. We do not know how many parents failed to secure a suitable place for a child in a given school year because the Government is not monitoring the situation.
Each Deputy in this House has come across many children in those types of scenarios. It was not difficult for "Prime Time" to find parents at the ends of their tethers, financially in one case, because of the special education system.
The evidence we have is thanks to the work of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, journalists and parents. Parents of children with special educational needs, or special needs in general, are used to constant struggle, hard work and weariness, constantly fighting to obtain not only what their child is entitled to but what he or she needs to be a citizen who can partake fully in our society. The system is failing badly.
According to the AsIAm charity, one in four children with an intellectual disability is being put on short school days, in some cases illegally. That number jumps to one in three for children with autism. The Minister has issued guidelines but they do not go far enough. The Minister needs to stick to the basic premise that every child is entitled to be there for the full school day except under exceptional circumstances as advised by a medical or other professional. If one veers from that at all, we are then veering from that constitutional right. Fianna Fáil would have a much shorter circular if it was in government. That practice of shorter school days for children with intellectual disabilities must end now. The Minister must do that without ifs or buts. Every child is entitled to an education and the schools and teachers must be resourced to provide that, particularly for training. Short school days cannot be an answer for children with learning difficulties.
Over 850 children with special needs across the country were receiving home tuition last year because a space could not be found for them in schools. The amount paid for home tuition for these children has increased by almost a quarter in the past two years and that is a devastating indictment of our educational system. Annually parents of children with special needs and autism face considerable difficulty securing school places for their children. That was especially acute in the Taoiseach's constituency and is in the process of being dealt with to some extent but many of the classes in the special schools that have been announced are not yet open. Despite the progress that is being made and despite the powers that Fianna Fáil insisted would be put into the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act, not all children in Dublin 15 have a school place.
The system is too reactive. I have met some impressive people at the National Council for Special Education but the administrative structure does not seem to be there to ensure that the system knows what is actually happening, rather than an ad hoc approach reacting to the latest particular child, or the latest particular problem as it is sometimes seen, which is wrong. The issues do not even begin to cover unsuitable placements. One parent, who lives in the constituency of Deputies Lahart and O'Callaghan, talked about how badly serviced their area is in Dublin 6 where there are 31 schools in the surrounding areas and, incredibly, only one of those schools has an autism spectrum disorder, ASD, class. There are 30 other schools, serving over 9,000 primary school children, that are without an ASD class. That is in one part of the country but also happens in many others.
I will yield to my colleagues. I am delighted that many other Members who have taken an interest in this motion and proposed amendments which we will consider very carefully.