I propose to take Questions Nos. 545 and 546 together.
Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government. This year, my Department will spend in excess of €2 Billion, or over 25% of the Department’s budget on providing a wide range of schemes and supports for children with special educational needs. This includes additional teaching and care supports. As a result, the number of special education teachers, special needs assistants and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide.
Over the last two years, my Department and the NCSE have worked closely on a more streamlined and joined up planning process which has ensured a targeted approach to meet demand for special needs placements ahead of each new school-year.
I am satisfied that this more joined up approach is delivering. Through this intensive intervention, we have seen over 300 special classes, providing over 1,800 new places, opened nationwide for the 2021/22 school-year.
I also acknowledge that 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.
In terms of Kildare, I can confirm that the NCSE is aware of an identified need for additional special classes for students with autism in primary and post-primary schools. Work has been underway with stakeholders for a number of years in this area to meet the demand for places.
NCSE has well established structures in place for engaging with schools and parents and seeks to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
NCSE is continuing to engage with schools regarding the establishment of additional special classes for 2022/23 and beyond. There are specific plans in place to open additional special classes and every support will be made available to progress their opening in the shortest possible timeframe with a particular focus on September next.
It is of course open to any school to engage with the NCSE to establish a special class.
My Department is committed, in conjunction with the NCSE, to continue to work with parents, schools, patrons and all stakeholders to ensure that there are sufficient appropriate places for students with additional needs and to support all students to achieve their potential.
I want to reassure you also that my Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an education.
A full list of special classes and special schools is available on the NCSE website: