The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019. We have significantly increased the availability of special placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE).
This includes the establishment of special class and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.
In deciding where to establish a special class in an area, the NCSE take account of the current and projected demand and the available school accommodation both current and planned.
The Council ensures that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from 548 to 1,459 this year.
Provision in special schools has increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year.
There are 37 special schools and 237 special classes attached to mainstream schools in Co. Dublin.
The number of ASD special classes in Co. Dublin have increased from 66 in 2011/2012 to 197 in 2018/2019. Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available on www.ncse.ie.
When the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation.
Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to my Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.
In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs Base (SEN Base) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.
Notwithstanding the extent of this investment issues remain. There are some parts of the country, including north County Dublin, where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system.
The NCSE are actively engaging with education service providers in order to encourage them to address the shortage of places.
The NCSE and my Department officials hosted a briefing session for Oireachtas members in Leinster House on Tuesday last to advise members on how the NCSE engages in a planning process to open special classes annually
The NCSE and the Department will continue to encourage stakeholders to seek to open new special classes for the 2019/20 school year, including in north County Dublin.
In short, ensuring that every child has a suitable placement available to them from September is a key priority for this Government.