The Tusla education support service, TESS, operates under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 and aims to promote attendance, participation and retention. Under section 22 of the Act, each school is obliged to have a statement of strategies to encourage regular attendance among all students. The school principal must ensure that the strategies outlined are followed, that parents are informed at the earliest possible point of the school’s concern regarding attendance and that the school follows the graded steps outlined in the strategy to address non-attendance. Where a school principal has a concern about a pupil’s attendance and where the school has made all local efforts to resolve the problem, a referral can be made to TESS and the school will be asked to document interventions made in line with the school attendance strategies. DEIS schools will also be asked to document additional interventions made by home-school community liaison officers and the school completion programme.
On the specific issue of disability, TESS has advised the Department that it does not record attendance rates for individual cohorts of students, including children with a disability, at primary or post-primary level. They are not, therefore, singled out within TESS's statistics. When it receives a referral, however, an educational welfare officer will engage with the parents of the child in question and identify any issues that may impede the child attending school. The officer will then put in place a plan to deal with these issues to ensure that the parents and the child can work towards establishing a more regular pattern of school attendance.
The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority of the Government. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, are at unprecedented levels and my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Foley, has announced significant increases in the numbers. She will spend €2 billion, or 20% of her budget, on making additional provision for children with special educational needs, a significant investment.