I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 to 57, inclusive, together.
My Departments July Provision Scheme provides funding for an extended school year for students with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
The scheme was developed to reduce potential regression in learning associated with these specific categories of special education needs over the summer holidays.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which advises me on these matters published its Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism in July 2016 which included a review of the July Scheme.
The review found that in general parents value July provision because it provides day-time respite for families and a structured day for students. However, the NCSE review found a number of problems with the scheme. These include concerns that the scheme may be inequitable because it is not provided to all students with complex special educational needs.
The Council recommended that the relevant Government Departments consider how an equitable national day activity scheme could be developed for all students with complex special educational needs.
The proposed scheme would provide a structured, safe, social environment for all students with complex special educational needs, which might include some children with Down syndrome.
My Department has convened an Implementation Group to ensure that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered.
There has been consultation with a number of other Departments and State agencies regarding the future direction of the July Education Programme.
It is expected that the Group will make recommendations shortly concerning a revised scheme which would be implemented next year at the earliest. Before any changes are made, there will be consultations with stakeholders.
The Deputy may be aware that my Department settled two High Court cases where children with Down Syndrome had sought access to the July Provision Scheme. While the terms of the settlement are confidential, I wish to clarify that the children concerned were not given access to the Scheme.
Officials of my Department met with Down Syndrome Ireland this week to discuss the implications of the settlement and I look forward to meeting with the organisation myself shortly.
The policy of my Department is to ensure that all children with special educational needs, including children with Down syndrome, can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs.
Where possible, provision is made for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs.
Department policy is that children with special educational needs should be included where possible and appropriate in mainstream placements, with additional supports provided.
In circumstances where children with special educational needs require more specialised interventions, special school or special class places are provided for.
The majority of pupils with Down syndrome are educated in mainstream settings, with additional teaching or care supports provided where necessary.
Some pupils with Down syndrome, particularly those who have additional needs or co-occurring conditions, are educated in special class or special school settings, and this is provided for.
However, as the policy of the Department of Education and Skills is to provide for inclusive education where possible, it is not proposed to seek to establish specialised units for the education of pupils with Down syndrome in mainstream secondary schools.