Source: Government of Ireland
Ministers Foley and Madigan announce legislation to ensure sufficient provision of placements for children with special educational needs
The Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and the Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD have today announced Government approval for the Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Bill 2022 which seeks to ensure adequate provision of special educational needs placements for the coming school year.
The key provision in this new legislation provides for a truncated Section 37A process, whereby a school can be directed to make additional provision for children with special educational needs. This new process can lead to a Ministerial direction to be served on a school within 6 to 8 weeks of receiving a report from the NCSE setting out its opinion that there are insufficient schools places in a certain area. The shortened process still allows two opportunities for school patrons and boards to make representations to the Minister ahead of a direction issuing.
Minister Foley said: “I recognise the importance of inclusive education for all children. It is my primary objective to promote and support actions that will ensure that the school setting is a welcoming environment for all. This legislation is an important step in ensuring that children with special educational needs have a school place for the upcoming school year. This legislation means that a child-centred and child-focused approach is taken to the provision of special education classes.
“The Department and the NCSE will continue to engage intensely with school authorities to open new special classes for September, but I am confident that this legislation can also play a key role in helping us with those efforts.”
Minister Madigan said: “We are committed to providing appropriate places for all children with special educational needs. We know that Dublin is the real pinch point in relation to placements for these children and this announcement seeks to address that shortage.
“Schools have been working with us and the NCSE to open new classes and we will open at least 315 additional classes this year. I am grateful to all concerned for their ongoing work in this regard and I want to commend the schools that are making provision for these students.
“All parties would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from the Minister.
“It is also important to note that a range of supports is provided to schools opening new classes, these include funding for new staff (for example certain special classes will consist of 6 students and one teacher, plus two SNAs), support from the Planning and Building Unit within the Department for any physical alterations needed to the building, a grant for equipment, and a range of training courses provided by the NCSE.”
The Department and the NCSE continue to have a lot of engagement with patrons and school authorities in relation to opening special classes for 2022/23 school year. Primary schools in Dublin are a particular focus for intensive engagement where the NCSE is aware of 80 children who are awaiting a placement in a special class and who are not already in a mainstream setting. Over recent weeks this engagement has resulted in confirmations from 8 primary schools that they will open special classes for the 2022/23 school year. This will reduce the number of children who are awaiting a placement in a special class to around 56.
Further engagement is happening with schools at present and this will continue intensively in the coming weeks with the intention of further reducing the number of children who require a special class placement.
In addition, the NCSE advises that approximately 50 children require a special school placement, and the Department and the NCSE are actively engaged in work to ensure that additional special school provision is made available on both the North and South side of Dublin.