I propose to take Questions Nos. 271, 273, 275, 278 and 282 together.
It is my belief that children with special educational needs should receive their education in placements which are appropriate to their needs alongside their peers wherever possible unless such an approach would be inconsistent with the best interests of the individual child or other children in the school.
This approach is consistent with the provisions of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004.
My Department's policy is therefore to provide for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs in mainstream schools. The majority of children with special needs attend mainstream education with additional supports.
Only where it has been assessed that the child is unable to be supported in mainstream education, are special class placements or special school placements recommended and provided for.
It is therefore not the case that special educational placements are required to support all children with special educational needs, nor is it intended that this should be the case
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 Deputy will be aware that the level of investment in special education, at almost €2 billion, is at an all-time high.
An additional 269 special classes are being opened this school-year. This will bring the total number of special classes nationally to 2,118. The new classes provide 1,600 additional places, spread right throughout the country.
Two new special schools are also opening this year, one in Dublin and one in Cork.
Despite this unprecedented increase, I am very aware of the need for further specialist education places in a small number of areas, mainly concentrated in Dublin.
I acknowledge that any delay in securing a suitable school placement can cause much anguish for parents and families involved.
Delays can happen for a variety of reasons including, for example, assessment reports for children coming available over the summer period while schools were closed. In other cases, parents may change their preference for a class placement and request that their child move from a mainstream class to a special class.
My Department and the NCSE have therefore put in place new planning structures and procedures to ensure sufficient places become available to meet local need. As new need emerges, there is a cohesive response available to ensure places become available in a timely and targeted way.
The willingness of school communities to open special classes is central to ensuring that every child can obtain a suitable placement. My Department and the NCSE can provide the necessary funding, teaching and SNA resources, professional supports and training so that the required special class places can be provided as soon as possible.
Information on the list of schools with special classes, the types and locations of these classes is published on the NCSE website and is available at www.ncse.ie
In respect of the Kildare area six new special classes opened in September 2021, four at primary and two at post primary level.
In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Education Needs (SEN) Base in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required. Typically, a two classroom SEN Base is provided in new primary schools and a two or four classroom SEN Base is provided in new post primary schools.
Additionally, when the NCSE sanction a special class in a school, the school can apply to the Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation. Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to the Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.
The main focus of the Department’s capital resources over the last decade and for the coming period, under the National Development Plan, is on provision of additional capacity to cater for increasing demographics, including provision for Special Education Needs.
Within County Kildare 17 projects were completed in the period 2018-2020; 13 of those were primary schools including one special school. There were four post-primary school building projects. As part of these projects, 9 SEN classrooms were provided at primary level and 36 SEN pupil places at post-primary level.
There are a further 12 projects currently on site in the county. Of these seven are primary schools and five are post-primary schools. In terms of SEN provision, these will provide for seven SEN classrooms (primary level) and 48 SEN pupil places (post-primary level).
Additionally, there are 38 projects at planning stage. The estimated SEN provision to be delivered by these projects is 77 SEN classrooms at primary level and 136 SEN pupil places at post-primary level.
The current status of all building projects, including in County Kildare, is available on my Department website www.education.ie and this information will continue to be updated on a regular basis.
I can reassure the Deputy that the local Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) continue to be 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: ncse.ie/regional-services-contact-list.