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. Since 2011 we have provided 12,000 extra pupils with special needs assistant, SNA, support. The investment has been very substantial. There have been 3,545 additional SNAs since 2011, over 2,000 in the last two years. There have been 3,660 additional resource teachers, 1,600 of which have been recruited in the past two years. In terms of special classes, which I know the Deputy is concerned about, there have been an additional 712 of those since 2011. That represents a more than doubling of the amount of special class, including 277 new classes in the past two years. Another 180 are planned for this September.
The Department is extending major investment to meet the very needs the Deputy brings up, and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, advises me that we are meeting those needs.
Most children with special education needs attend mainstream class, but some require the environment of a special class. This decision is based on a professional assessment in consultation with the NCSE.
The NCSE, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers, SENOs, in consultation with the relevant education partners, is responsible for the establishment of special classes in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.
Schools may apply to the NCSE to open a special class where a need has been identified in their area, for example where a number of students have professional reports indicating they require the support of a special class.
As the Deputy knows, Deputy Thomas Byrne and others have urged at Committee Stage that we would introduce a provision, which I am now having drafted, which would give the NCSE the power to designate a school to open a special class, should that prove necessary.