I propose to take Questions Nos. 445 to 447, inclusive, together.
Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government. The Department of Education will spend approximately €2 Billion or over 20% of its total educational budget in 2021 on making additional provision for children with special educational needs this year.
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.
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.
16 special classes provide ASD and ASD Early Intervention placements for students in Dublin 9 and 11 at Primary and Post Primary level. The admission policies of schools are the remit of the Board of Management of each school and, as such, the NCSE has no role in relation to the number of applicants or waiting lists. Once schools notify NCSE of vacancies within their specialist provision, SENOs work locally to ensure parents are made aware of these special class places.
Through ongoing consultation at local level the NCSE is aware of those parents whose children will be seeking placement for the 2021/22 academic year, including mainstream placement with appropriate support, special class placement, Early Intervention and special school placement. The NCSE continues to work at local level to identify any and all relevant suitable placements.
Special classes in the Dublin area generally operate at capacity, and the NCSE is working with a significant number of schools in the county to encourage and support the opening of new ASD classes at all levels. The NCSE has specific plans in place to open a number of additional classes in schools in North Dublin.
I can also reassure the Deputy that the local SENOs continue to be available to assist and advise parents of children with special educational needs.
Information on the list of schools with special classes together with SENO contact details is available at www.ncse.ie.