I propose to take Questions Nos. 130, 132 and 138 together.
It is the policy of my Department that all children with Special Educational Needs, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), 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.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is a separate independent statutory body whose functions include planning and coordinating the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs in conjunction with schools and the Health Service Executive (HSE).
The NCSE, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports as required. This includes the new model for allocating special education teachers to schools and the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.
The NCSE is aware of emerging need from year to year, and where special provision is required it is planned and established to meet that need.
DES Circular 0013/2017 for primary schools and 0014/2017 for post primary schools set out the details of the new model for allocating special education teachers to schools.
The revised allocation process replaces the generalised allocation process at primary and post primary school level for learning support and high incidence special educational needs, and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) allocation process which provided additional resource teaching supports to schools, to support pupils assessed as having Low Incidence disabilities.
The new Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on each school’s educational profile.
Under the new allocation model, schools have been provided with a total allocation for special education needs support based on their school profile.
The provision of a profiled allocation is designed to give a fairer allocation for each school which recognises that all schools need an allocation for special needs support, but which provides a graduated allocation which takes into account the actual level of need in each school.
Under the new allocation model schools are frontloaded with resources, based on each school’s profile, to provide supports immediately to those pupils who need it without delay. This reduces the administrative burden on schools as schools no longer have to complete an application process annually and apply for newly enrolled pupils who require resource hours. Children who need support can have that support provided immediately rather than having to wait for a diagnosis.
Schools therefore no longer have to make applications, for newly enrolled pupils for whom resource teaching hours may have been provided under the old model, or for pupils who have received a new diagnosis, as schools now receive a single allocation for all of their special education teaching needs, based on their school size and profile.
The number of special education teachers allocated to mainstream schools has increased by 13% in the last two years, with 13,400 posts available for allocation in the current school year, compared to just over 11,800 posts allocated in the 2015/16 school year.
Since 2011 the NCSE has increased the number of special classes by over 100% from 548 in 2011 to over 1,300 with 169 new special classes for the 2017/18 school year. 1,042 of the 1,300 special classes are ASD special classes of which 149 are newly established for this school year.
125 special schools also provide specialist education for those students with complex special educational needs, including students diagnosed with ASD. The number of students attending special schools has increased by 150 on average each year over the last 4-5 years, increasing from 6,848 in 2011/12 to 7,750 in 2016/17, an increase of 13%.
In the region of 34,000 students with special educational needs will have access to 14,120 SNA posts to the end of this school year, which is an increase of 33.5% over 2011, when 10,575 SNA posts were allocated. Budget 2018 has provided for an additional 960 SNA posts for September 2018, which will bring the total number of SNA posts available to over 15,000.
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 or special school placements can access such placements.
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.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) policy advice on Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (2016) found that Students are generally well supported in schools with appropriate curriculum; extensive teacher and SNA supports; improving range of educational placements supported by improved accommodation and equipment; improved teacher knowledge and understanding and a generally good standard of provision at primary and post primary levels.
The NCSE policy advice noted that ASD is a spectrum condition, so some students with ASD may require little support in school and are relatively independent in their learning, while others require significant levels of support.
The NCSE Policy Advice also states that International Research findings suggest that most students with ASD should be considered for inclusion in mainstream education with their peers, where inclusion is well-planned and well-resourced.
Decisions about placement should be based on individual needs and take into account a number of factors including parental wishes, availability of evidence-based treatments and well-trained staff and individual factors such as targets for intervention and management of behaviours.
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.
Others may have such complex needs that they are best placed in a special school.
There is therefore not one preferred educational environment for children with ASD, rather there is a model which takes into account the assessed educational needs of individual pupils.
The work of the Implementation Group for the policy advice, with representatives of the NCSE, NEPS, the Inspectorate and external representatives is ongoing, in ensuring that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.