The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is an independent statutory agency which has been established in accordance with the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. The Act sets out the responsibility of the NCSE to coordinate and plan for the provision of education for children with special educational needs nationwide and to advise the Minister for Education and Skills in relation to matters regarding the education for persons with special educational needs.
As this question relates to the manner in which the NCSE fulfils its statutory requirements under section 41(1)(c) and 41 (2) of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, I have referred this question to the NCSE for their consideration and direct reply to the Deputy.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. It has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents. NCSE seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special education placements.
NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and special school places nationally, to meet identified need. This process is ongoing.
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.
Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places.
Normally, special class and special school places are established with the full cooperation 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 provide new special class or special school places.
As Minister, I have a power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by Section 8 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018), to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. The legislation contains a procedure through which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and through which ultimately a Ministerial direction can be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision available.
The legislation was used for the first time in 2019, in respect of the Dublin 15 area. Significant progress has been made in that area on foot of action taken under Section 37. In April 2020, a Report from the NCSE, prepared in accordance with this legislation and confirming the need for additional special education places in South Dublin was submitted. This Report is available on my Department’s website.
Statutory notices under the Act were subsequently issued on 26 June, 2020 to 39 schools identified by the NCSE. The issue of the notices is but the first step in a very transparent multi-step process, the purpose of which is to establish if the school has capacity to provide new places. At each stage of the process, schools are given the opportunity to make representations and there is also an option for arbitration at a later point. Statutory notices issued under the Act together with the representations received from the schools and their patrons are published on my Department’s website. The representations received to date have all been published and are a matter of public record.
Through better planning at both national and local level, it is my objective that specialist education places should come on stream to meet emerging demand on a timely basis. However, the active collaboration of school communities is essential in this regard.