I thank the Deputy for his question. Children with special needs should receive their education in placements that are appropriate to their needs alongside their peers wherever possible unless such an approach would be inconsistent with the best interests of an individual child or other children in the school. This is provided for in section 2 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.
On the guidelines the Deputy mentioned, guidance has been sent to schools. A summary of it was published on the website www.gov.ie on 11 September. It relates to special education, in particular. Pupils in special classes should continue to interact or integrate with mainstream classes. The guidelines do not prevent this. Schools will continue to do their best in the interest of the students. If the Deputy has concerns about a certain school, he may write to me about it and I can revert to him. To the greatest extent possible, schools should be trying to integrate children with special needs.
My Department supports a continuum of learning through a range of dedicated supports in line with the needs of the child. These include the provision of teachers, special needs assistants and psychological support from the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. In addition, there are specialist supports provided by the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which has published guidelines on setting up and organising special classes for primary and post-primary schools. The teachers should be aware of those. The guidelines advise that students enrolled in special classes should be included in mainstream classes, to the greatest extent possible, in line with their abilities.
The overall aim of the continuum is to ensure that every child is supported in the journey towards realising their potential through education in an inclusive and caring school environment. Pupils in special classes should continue to interact with or integrate with mainstream classes. However, the number of mainstream classes with which each special class pupil integrates should be minimised in order to maintain pod grouping to the greatest extent and to assist with contact and tracing mechanisms, should this become necessary.