I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 to 106, inclusive, together.
Enabling children with Special Educational Needs including Autism to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for Government.
There is now unprecedented investment in special education. The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.9 billion in 2019.
We have significantly increased the availability of specialist placements for children with special educational needs as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.
Budget 2020 provides for an additional 1,064 SNA posts and 400 new special education teacher posts to cater for new need next year.
The National Council for Special Education’s Policy Advice on Educational Provision for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders was published in July 2016. The report acknowledges that there has been substantial investment in the education of students with autism over the 14 years since the publication of the last major report on autism in 2001. The report set out 11 recommendations for further improvement and outlines a range of associated actions to give effect to its recommendations.
My Department has convened an Implementation Group with representatives of the NCSE, NEPS, the Inspectorate and external representatives to ensure that the Report’s recommendations are fully and appropriately considered and that a timetable for implementation is prepared.
The group met on three occasions in 2018 and twice to date in 2019 with a further meeting due to be scheduled in the coming weeks. There are further sub-groups continuing to work and research options regarding the implementation of some of the outstanding recommendations. The work of the Implementation Group is ongoing.
A number of the recommendations in relation to school aged provision have been substantially implemented, including those on the development of additional primary and post primary provision, admissions to schools, operating of special classes, additional release days for teaching principals and the use of evidence-informed interventions.
Work is continuing on recommendations relating to on developing teacher knowledge, skills and understanding. My Department intends to publish comprehensive inter agency Good Practice Guidelines on the education of children with Autism in 2020.
It is expected that recommendations will be made shortly concerning a revised July provision scheme which would be implemented next year at the earliest. Before any changes are made to the July provision scheme, there will be consultations with stakeholders.
The NCSE estimated that implementing the school based recommendations in the report would cost an additional €20m per annum.
Capitation funding, is intended to contribute towards the cost of heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance, general up-keep etc. My Department recognises the need to improve capitation funding for schools. Capitation grants are the main funding mechanism for schools to enable them meet their day to day running costs. The levels of capitation grants both primary and post primarty are examined annually as part of the estimates process and in the light of available resources.
Budget 2019 provided for a 5% increase in Capitation funding for primary and post primary schools effective from the start of the 2019/20 school year. Over the course of the school year 2019/20, an additional €10 million will be allocated to primary and post primary schools, of which €4 million will be allocated in 2019.
Budget 2020 provided that schools capitation for all schools will increase by a further 2.5% from September 2020. Enhanced capitation rates will increase by 7.5% from September 2020.
It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to make valid comparisons between the levels of grants paid and the actual costs of running schools at primary and post primary levels. Primary ASD special classes receive an enhanced capitation grants of €849 per student enrolled inclusive of the mainstream capitation rate (currently €179 per students). Post Primary ASD special classes do not receive enhanced capitation. However, the Post Primary mainstream capitation rate is €309 per student.