I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 93 together.
At present, the Department of Education and Skills is investing heavily in supporting our children with special educational needs, with €1.8bn being spent annually, about €1 in every 5 of the education budget.
Investment in this area includes an allocation of over €300 million towards providing additional resources specifically to support students with Autism in schools.
The number of Special Education Teachers has increased by 37% from 9,740 in 2011 to over 13,400, Special Needs Assistants by 42% - from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,000, as well as 83 Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs).
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of local SENOs, in consultation with the relevant education partners, is responsible for identifying the need for and sanctioning the resourcing of special classes and special school placements in various geographical areas where there is an identified need.
It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, there is a range of supports including capital funding available to the school.
There are now 1,459 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011, including 1,196 special classes cater for students diagnosed with ASD – 131 Early Intervention, 743 Primary and 322 Post-primary.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) have advised that for the 2019/20 school year there will be a total of 1,618 special classes of which 1,353 will be for children diagnosed with autism.
124 special schools also provide specialist education for those students with complex special educational needs.
An additional 1,353 teachers would be required should an extra teacher be provided in each autism class from 2019/2020 school year, resulting in an additional estimated cost of €45.7m per annum at primary level and €17.2 m per annum at post-primary level.
Special classes for students with ASD provide 6 placements and are staffed with a lower pupil–teacher ratio of 6:1 at primary level and 6:1.5 at post primary level, and also have a minimum of two Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for every class of 6 children.
Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for Government.