I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 and 169 together.
Ensuring that children with special educational needs are supported and given the opportunity to reach their full potential is a key priority for this government. In 2018, almost 1.8 billion will be invested in Special Education, nearly one fifth of the overall Education budget, and up 43% since 2011.
During the worst years of the recession we not only protected supports for children with special educational needs but grew them.
This funding includes provision for over 13,400 Special Education Teaching posts in mainstream primary and post primary schools for the 2017/2018 school year, providing additional teaching support to pupils with special educational needs, and approximately 1,300 special classes, with 169 new Special Classes opened to date for the 2017/18 school year. This compares to 548 special classes in 2011.
My Department's policy aims to ensure that all children with Special Educational Needs, including those with autism, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in school settings through the primary and post-primary school network.
Such placements facilitate access to individualised education programmes which may draw from a range of appropriate educational interventions, delivered by fully qualified professional teachers, with the support of Special Needs Assistants and the appropriate school curriculum.
Some students, although academically able to access the curriculum in mainstream, may find it too difficult to manage full-time placement there. This can be due to significant difficulties in areas such as behaviour or sensory needs which have not been ameliorated, even with appropriate intervention, in mainstream.
Other children may have such complex needs that the recommendation in their professional reports state that they are best placed in a special school.
With regard to County Wexford, the most recent figures available to me indicate that 1,908 students with special educational needs were accessing supports in County Wexford during the 2016/17 school year, comprising 1,545 in mainstream classes, 125 in special classes and 238 students in special schools.
The number of ASD special classes in County Wexford has more than doubled from 17 in 2011 to 41 in 2017/18 school year.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of Special Needs Organisers (SENOs), for fulfilling the functions of the NCSE Council within a designated area in relation to the identification of and delivery and co-ordination of education services to children with disabilities, including the establishment of special classes.
The NCSE, in looking to open special classes, must take into account the present and future potential need for such classes, taking particular account of the educational needs of the children concerned. The NCSE will also take account of location and sustainability in looking to establish special classes in certain areas.
The NCSE has informed my Department that they will continue to monitor demand and review the requirement for special class places in the Wexford area.
My Department continues to work with the NCSE to ensure that there is appropriate planning in place to ensure that all children who require special class placements can access such placements in schools within their communities.
Parents/guardians of children with special needs who may need advice or are experiencing difficulties in locating a school placement should contact their local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) as soon as possible for information on available places. The local SENO contact details are available on www.ncse.ie.