As Minister I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed.
The legislation provides for a very transparent series of steps which can ultimately lead to the issuing of a legally binding direction to a board of management.
The initial step in the process is for the NCSE to inform the Minister there is a shortage of places in a particular area.
The NCSE has informed my Department that in general it is satisfied that there are placements available to meet identified need.
167 new special classes will be opened for the 2019/20 school year, which means there will be 1,622 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these, 370 are Post Primary ASD special classes, compared to 72 in 2011.
Where Parents have been experiencing difficulty securing a Post Primary special class placement, they should contact their local SENO to help resolve the issue.
In such circumstances the NCSE SENO will actively engage at local level with schools, Patron Bodies and the families to ensure that a suitable placement is provided as soon as possible.
Funding towards home tuition is available as a short term measure if no suitable place is available.
If, following completion of that work, the NCSE has not been able to establish the required school placements it can activate the provisions contained in section 37A of the Education Act 1998.
It should be noted that the continued growth in post primary special class numbers is a natural consequence of the earlier growth in primary special class numbers. However, it should not be assumed that the same levels of growth in post primary class numbers should apply. This is because, for children with Autism, transferring from a special class in a primary school to a special class in a post primary school may not always be the optimal choice. Many children can progress to mainstream post primary with support of SNA and Resource Teaching hours, while more may transfer from primary to a special school depending on their presentation and needs.
It should also be noted that there is a proportionally larger enrolment at Primary level due to the higher number of standard years.
I will continue to support the establishment of ASD Special Classes in all areas where the NCSE have identified the need to do so.