I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 99 together.
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 number of special classes, special education teachers and Special Needs Assistants are at unprecedented levels and so too is the number of children receiving support across the continuum that includes mainstream classes, special classes and special schools. The Department’s commitment is to provide each child with an education in accordance with his/her needs.
Increased investment in teachers, SNAs, therapeutic and other supports reflects the priority which is put on helping children with special educational needs to fulfil their potential
The investment 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.
My Department's Inspectorate conducts evaluation work in all mainstream and special schools.
The Inspectorate works to improve the quality of learning for children and young people in Irish schools, and uses a range of inspection models in its work. These range from one-day, unannounced incidental inspections, to more intensive whole-school evaluations and inspections that follow-through on how schools have implemented recommendations made in previous inspection reports. All inspection models focus on the quality of teaching, learning and pupil achievement.
Depending on the focus of the evaluation, they may also focus on the quality of support for pupils, the quality of action planning for school improvement and the quality of leadership and management.
The NCSE is an independent agency under the remit of my Department, with a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs, in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive (HSE).
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 me no later than June 2020. A progress report has been submitted to me, and this is currently under consideration.
Pending receipt of this Policy Advice, no changes to legislation in relation to educational provision in special schools is planned.