Ensuring that every child has a suitable school placement is a key objective of my Department. Significant resources are allocated each year to ensure that appropriate supports are available for children with special educational needs.
Since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased almost threefold, from 548 to 1,618 for the 2019/2020 school year, with 1,353 of these catering for children with autism. .
167 new special classes have been established nationally for the 2019/20 school year.
There are currently 165 primary classes and 48 post primary classes catering for children with autism in Dublin.
A list of special classes for September 2019 is available on the NCSE website at:
Budget 2020 provided for an additional 265 special class teachers in 2020, which will allow for the opening of additional classes where required.
The NCSE has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide; has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents; and seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
It is open to any school to make an application to the NCSE for the establishment of a specialised provision and where sanctioned, a range of supports, including capital funding, is made available to the school. In considering these applications, however, the NSCE, in conjunction with the school buildings unit of my Department, will be required to take into account the capacity of a school to establish such a class, including the provision of sufficient accommodation space within the school.
The NCSE is planning and finalising a further expansion of special class and special school places nationally to meet identified need for next year. As this process is ongoing, the final number of places available for students with ASD is not currently available.
Normally, special class and special school places are established with the full co-operation of the schools in areas where they are required. However there are some parts of the country where the NCSE has faced challenges in getting schools and their patrons to voluntarily agree to provide special class or special school places.
I know that this can cause much anguish for parents and families involved
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.
I would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me. It is the right thing for the children in a community.
The legislation was used for the first time in April 2019, in respect of the Dublin 15 area.
The NCSE's Local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise both schools and the parents of children with special educational needs in relation to specialised provision.
Since then, as required under the Act, the NCSE in consultation with the relevant education stakeholders, has been testing the capacity among schools in the South Dublin area.
On 21 April 2020 I received a report from the NCSE, pursuant to Section 37A(2) of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by section 8 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018) in respect of South Dublin, as the NCSE Council remains of the opinion that there is an insufficient number of special class and special school places within the South Dublin area for September 2020.
Before reaching this opinion, the NCSE has undertaken substantial work reviewing provision and accommodation in the 231 mainstream primary and 23 special schools in South Dublin.
Following engagement between NCSE local personnel and school management and Patrons, very good progress has been achieved. 78 ASD primary school special class placements and 12 ASD early intervention special class places have been created in 14 schools in South Dublin, with 13 new ASD special classes and 2 new ASD early intervention special classes to open for September 2020.
However, the NCSE has reported that to date, an insufficient number of schools have indicated a willingness to open additional special classes. The NCSE is of the opinion that should this continue, there remains a need for an additional 43 ASD primary special class places and 36 special school places in South Dublin.
The report also outlines the schools that should be requested to make additional provision.
This report will now be considered and if I agree with the position as set out by NCSE, next steps in the process will be considered which may include serving a statutory notice on schools identified if required.
At each stage of the process, schools are given the opportunity to make representations and there is also an option for arbitration.
Statutory notices issued under the Act together with the representations received from the schools are published on the Department’s website.
The necessary steps in the Admissions Act process, will continue to be expedited to ensure that every child has a suitable school placement, which is the key objective of my Department.