Almost 1,000 extra special needs assistants (SNAs) are to be allocated to schools in the autumn to help meet the needs of vulnerable students.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the increased numbers were required to meet the level of demand from children who need extra supports in class. "Today's announcement will ensure every child who needs SNA support, will receive it," Mr Bruton said.
He said 800 additional SNAs will be allocated to schools for the beginning of the next school year, with a further 140 expected to be allocated over the period September to December 2018.
This means there will be a total of 15,000 SNAs working in our schools, a 42 per cent increase on 2011.
Investment in special education – which stands at about €1.7 billion – now accounts for a fifth of the overall education budget.The SNA scheme accounts for almost €525 million of this.
The increased investment has sparked concern from the Department of Public Expenditure over the “rapidly escalating”costs.
Internal briefing material prepared for Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe ahead of the 2018 budget expressed alarm that special education supports now cost more than the entire higher education system.
Mr Bruton, however, says the investment reflects the growing participation of children with special needs in the education system which is helping to better support young people’s participation and progression.
Last year, Mr Bruton pledged that schools would be informed of their allocation for the beginning of the next school year before the end of May 2018.
He said today’s announcement honoured that commitment and would make a real difference to schools and SNAs in planning for the year ahead.
As a result, Mr Bruton said, each child that is assessed as needing SNA support will receive access to such support for the commencement of the new school year.
This will ensure that children with special educational needs may be enrolled and take up their places in September.
The National Council for Special Education will now proceed to notify schools of their SNA allocations for the coming school year.
It is due to publish details of these allocations on their website (www.ncse.ie) on Friday.
A comprehensive assessment of the scheme is being undertaken by the State’s advisory body on special education, in consultation with other relevant departments and State agencies.
It is tasked with identifying the most appropriate form of support options to provide better outcomes for students with special educational needs, having regard to the “significant amount of State investment in this area”.
In addition to the growth of SNAs, the number of special classes has increased by almost 140 per cent ince 2011.
There are now some 1,300 special classes in mainstream schools, with an additional 155 special classes due to open in the coming school year.
A new model for allocating resource teachers to schools has been introduced, with 900 additional teacher allocated from September 2017 to support the model and to ensure that children with special needs can access additional teaching supports.