Very significant levels of financial provision are made to ensure that all children with special educational needs can be provided with an education appropriate to their needs.
My Department currently spends approximately €1.9 Billion or almost 20% of its total current educational and training budget annually on making additional provision for children with special educational needs.
This represents an increase of over 50% in total expenditure since 2011, at which point €1.247 Billion per annum was provided.
The main supports this funding provides for are:
- Over 13,400 special education teacher posts currently allocated to mainstream primary and post primary who support the mainstream class teacher by providing additional teaching support for pupils with special educational needs in schools.
- The total number of Special Educational Teachers has increased by 37% since 2011, from 9,740 in 2011, to over 13,400 at present.
- Budget 2020 provides an additional 120 special education teacher posts which means that 13,620 Special Education Teaching posts will be available for allocation to mainstream primary and post primary schools by the end of 2020.
- Provision has been made for up to 17,014 Special Needs Assistant (SNA) posts to be allocated to primary, post primary and special schools in 2020, with Budget 2020 providing an additional 1064 Special Needs Assistants for schools.
- The SNA scheme provides mainstream Primary, Post Primary schools and Special Schools with additional adult support staff to assist children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs from a disability.
- Provision for 17,014 SNAs represents an increase of 60% since 2011.The number of SNAs in the school system has increased by almost 50%, from 10,575 in 2011 to over 15,800 at present.
- The additional SNAs provided for, will support the roll out of the New School Inclusion model, including a new allocation methodology for mainstream schools in the 2020/21 school year, which will ensure students with additional needs get the right supports at the right time, as well as supporting new special class and special school places.
- A pilot of the new School Inclusion Model approved by Government on 8 February last, is being implemented in HSE CHO7 for this school year, which is designed to test a new integrated education and health service model for supporting students with additional needs.
- The demonstration project to provide in-school and pre-school therapy services which was introduced for the 2018/19 school year will continue to provide in-school and pre-school therapy services as part of the School Inclusion Model in order to ensure a wraparound service. The purpose of the demonstration project is to test a model of tailored therapeutic supports that allows for early intervention in terms of providing speech and language and occupational therapy within ‘educational settings’. This innovative pilot complements existing HSE funded provision of essential therapy services.
- Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased by almost 200% from 548 to 1,621 for 2019/2020 school year. Of these 1,355 special classes will cater for students diagnosed with ASD.
- 167 new special classes have been established nationally for 2019/20 school year of which approximately 156 will be new ASD special classes, comprising 6 Early Intervention, 100 primary and 50 post-primary ASD classes. Budget 2020 provides for an additional 265 special class teachers in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional classes to cater for over 1,300 additional places, where required.
- 124 special schools providing specialist education for approximately 7,500 pupils annually with over 1,400 teachers. Budget 2020 provides for an additional 23 teaching posts for special schools, designed to meet expected increases in enrolments in 2020, providing over 8,000 pupil places in special schools. It also provides for the continued provision of administrative deputy principal posts in special schools with 15+ teaching posts, introduced in special schools for the first time this September.
- The NCSE is currently undertaking Policy Advice on Education Provision in Special Classes and Special Schools to examine whether placement in specialist settings brings about improved educational outcomes and experiences, relative to their ability, for students with special educational needs. This Policy Advice is to be completed and a report submitted to the Minister no later than June 2020. It is anticipated that a progress report will be submitted by the NCSE in the coming weeks.
- Other supports provides for assistive technology supports and equipment, special school transport arrangements including additional transport assistance such as bus escorts; teacher training and continuing professional development in the area of special education; enhanced capitation levels for special schools and special classes and modification of school buildings to assist with access and new build provisions to ensure inclusive settings in newly built schools.
- The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) includes a new Regional Support Service within the NCSE to support the inclusion of children with special educational needs in schools.
- A Home Tuition scheme provides for the education of children with special educational needs who are awaiting school placement and the July provision provides for an extended school year scheme.
- Special Arrangements for State Examinations – reasonable accommodations and supports are made available to support children with special educational needs to participate in state exams.
This increased investment in teachers, SNAs, therapeutic and other supports reflects the priority which this Government has put on helping children with special educational needs to fulfil their potential. It also reflects the growing participation of children with Special Educational Needs in the Education System and the capacity of the Education System to better support their full participation and progression.
Notwithstanding the extent of unprecedented level of investment, I am aware that issues remain.
There are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to shortages in capacity in the school system.
In these areas, some parents are experiencing difficulty in securing a suitable place for their children. This will continue to be a major concern for me and my Department.
Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 has been invoked already and it may need to be used again. However, my stated preference is for schools to engage with this challenge on a voluntary basis because it is the right thing for the children in their community.
My Department will continue to support the NCSE to continue to work with schools, patron bodies and teachers so that they can establish special classes where required with confidence. In that way, parents can be happy that the education needs of their children will be provided for in their local school in so far as possible.
Ensuring every child has access to a suitable school placement is a priority for me and my Department and we will continue to ensure that this can be provided for.