I propose to take Questions Nos. 921 and 922 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.
The majority of special schools cater for students up to the age of 18. However, in the event that students are transitioning from a special school to a post-primary school, such enrolment applications are a matter for each individual board of management and the NCSE does not hold such records.
The NCSE, through its local network of SENOs (Special Educational Needs Organisers), is available to provide advice and support to parents of students that are due to transition to post-primary on the possible placement options available to their child, including mainstream placement with appropriate support, special class placement and special school placement. Post-primary placements are supported with additional resources where required.
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. The NCSE provides a programme of teacher professional learning and in-school support to support schools in establishing special classes.
Notwithstanding the extent of this investment, I am acutely aware that there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places. For September 2021, the NCSE is aware of a specific identified need for special school placements in Cork City and County and is working with my Department and the education partners towards meeting that need. A number of options are currently being explored to increase the number of places to cater for the needs of children in this area. I can assure the Deputy that this is a priority for all concerned.
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.
NCSE is aware of those parents whose children are seeking placement for the 2021/22 academic year, including mainstream placement with appropriate support, special class and special school placement. The NCSE continues to work to identify any and all relevant suitable placements.
In circumstances, where no placement is available for a child with special educational needs, the Department can provide Home Tuition grant funding towards the provision of 20 hours home tuition per week as an interim measure until the NCSE confirms that a placement is available.
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. Parents may contact SENOs directly using the contact details available at: https://ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list.
Information on the list of schools with special classes is available at www.ncse.ie.