The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. is urging schools, Boards of Management and school patrons to do more to fulfil obligations to provide specialist school places for children and young people with special needs.
Speaking today, Minister McHugh said: “Supporting and caring for a child with special needs can bring worries and concerns that not everyone experiences. It is our job to try and eliminate some of the additional difficulties and stresses.
“The Government is spending nearly one euro in every five of the education budget on special education – about €1.75 billion. We have significantly increased the availability of classes for children with autism as well as bringing more and more children into mainstream education.”
“Since 2011, the number of special classes has increased from 548 in 2011 to 1,459 across the country now, of which almost 1,200 are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) special classes.”
“There are now over 15,000 SNA employed in schools – a 40% increase in the last eight years.”
The Minister added: “While I accept there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to pressure on school places for children with special needs, it is vital that all children, including those with special educational needs, can access an appropriate and sustainable placement.
“I have been assured that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an independent agency of the Department, is actively engaging with schools, patron bodies, parents, the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS), health professionals and other staff who are involved in the provision of services for children with special educational needs to try to ensure that each child has a school placement appropriate to their needs for the 2019/20 school year.”
Minister McHugh has asked officials in the Department to work with the NCSE to explore ways, where possible, to improve information being made available to parents.
“I know that SENOs have been in contact with parents experiencing difficulties in securing specialist school places and that they are continuing to work to identify appropriate places,” the Minister said.
“Two areas experiencing acute pressure on special school and special class capacity are Dublin 15 and in Kildare. I am also concerned about information that is being made available to parents seeking special placements for their children. Work is ongoing to secure additional placements and options are being explored in existing school infrastructure to address this as a matter of urgency.
“There are undoubted challenges when it comes to the establishment of special school and class provision in some schools and communities. The Department will consider all applications for funding for schools to re-configure existing space within a school building to accommodate a sanctioned special education class and/or to provide additional accommodation.
“As Minister, my objective is for children, including children with special educational needs, to access education in as inclusive a setting as possible where they will experience a welcoming school environment.
“Following the commencement of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, a power has been created to allow me to compel a school to make additional provision for special education. The power has yet to be invoked and I believe it should only be used as a measure of last resort.
“As Minister I hope that schools, patrons and boards of managements can be encouraged to work together with the NCSE to meet demand in the best interests of the children concerned.”
It is Department policy is to provide for the inclusive education of children with special educational needs, including Autism (ASD), in mainstream school settings, unless such a placement would not be in the best interests of the child concerned, or the children with whom they will be educated.
The NCSE is responsible for planning, coordinating and advising on education provision for children with special educational needs. The Council works with schools to open sufficient specialist places so that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements.
The NCSE’s team of locally based Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) are available to assist and advise parents whose children have special needs and identify available placements. They also support and advise schools in this area. Details of all schools with special classes are listed on the NCSE’s website (www.ncse.ie). Parents who are experiencing difficulties in locating a special class or school placement, should contact their local SENO.
Individual school authorities are responsible for the establishment of special classes. It is open to any school to make application to the National Council for Special education (NCSE) to establish specialised provision.
It is not always possible or practical that a special class placement would be available in a child’s local school. In such circumstances, children are eligible for school transport where they are attending the nearest special class that is or can be resourced to meet their special educational needs. Eligibility is determined following consultation with the NCSE through its network of SENOs.
The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 will assist in addressing this issue. Section 8 of the Act, which commenced on the 3rd of December 2018, provides the Minister with a power, after a process of consultation with the NCSE, the board of management and the patron of the school, to compel a school to make additional provision for the education of children with special educational needs.
Some €4.75m has been allocated to a new School Inclusion Model as part of a pilot project in 75 schools and 75 pre-schools in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow for the 2019/20 school year with a focus on speech and language and occupational therapy, behaviour support, improved psychology services and training for SNAs.
To see the above originally published on the DES website, click here.