The work carried out by the 124 special schools is invaluable. Since my appointment as Minister, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of the schools to see at first hand the work they do.
My Department is aware of issues related to very significant increases in insurance costs in some special schools through correspondence received from some special schools, discussions with the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education, NABMSE, and media reports. The increases appear to be due, in some instances, to an annual increase in insurance costs generally and, in some cases, an increase in claims against special schools.
Securing and maintaining adequate and appropriate insurance cover is a matter for the managerial authority of each school. My Department is working as a matter of urgency with the NABMSE and relevant Departments, including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the State Claims Agency to seek a resolution of the issue of increased insurance costs in special schools.
A number of options have been identified to address the issue. They include the development of a group insurance scheme for special schools. The NABMSE met boards and patrons on 6 June to discuss the matter and the options available. An official from my Department attended the meeting.
At this stage, the group scheme proposal appears to be the most viable. The importance of all schools signing up to such a scheme was emphasised at the recent meeting and all school representatives who were in attendance were in favour of exploring the group scheme option.
Fifteen special schools that are experiencing difficulty in paying insurance premiums have contacted my Department directly. They report increases in the cost of insurance of between 30% and over 700% in the past two years. To date, my Department has advanced school capitation payments on an exceptional basis to two special schools, amounting to €36,860. My Department is engaging with the other schools in that regard. However, it is not sustainable for my Department to continue to advance capitation payments as a way of meeting vastly increased insurance premiums. I know that this is a cause of concern for schools also and it is my hope a speedy and cost effective resolution can be secured for special schools which have been impacted on.