Greater diversity of school types planned for coming years – department

Students with special needs will be better supported, strategy for 2021-2023 pledges

The Department of Education has committed to creating greater diversity in the type of schools to be made available to parents and children in coming years.

Over the three-year period it will “increase the diversity of school type” as well as a “furtherance of inclusive environments in our schools and education centres”.

In its Statement of Strategy 2021-2023, due to be published on Tuesday, the department commits to supporting “the participation and progression of students with special educational needs through the delivery of integrated resources” as well as increasing “the development of special class places for students with additional needs in new and existing mainstream schools”.

In that context it promises to “help students at risk of educational disadvantage to access appropriate education resources”.

It notes how the “use of digital technologies in education have come into sharper focus in light of events surrounding Covid-19” and, for this reason, “€100 million in ICT funding was provided during 2020 to facilitate schools to develop their ICT capacity and to support students at risk of being negatively impacted by a digital divide”.

It says: “We must continue to develop the digital capacity of our education system and to ensure that all schools are supported to achieve this.”

Innovation ‘critical’

It also commits to “exploring the scope for a citizens’ assembly on education as set out in the programme for government”, and puts emphasis on innovation in education.

“Innovation is considered a critical requirement for public service organisations to improve services both today and for tomorrow.”

Among the proposals aimed at improving learner experience is the development of a policy paper on how to “promote and support extracurricular activities within school”.

Post-primary school enrolments “are projected to continue rising over the short term, with enrolments in 2020 standing at 379,183”. Enrolments in primary schools in 2020 stood at 561,410, down slightly on 2019 (567,716). These were “projected to fall over the coming years”, it said.

In a breakdown of schools’ populations, it discloses that currently there are 929,166 children in schools altogether, with 371,450 at post-primary level. A further 105, 978 children are in preschool, where they are looked after by 4,260 early childhood care and education providers.

There are 66,932 teachers at primary and post-primary levels, of which 13,530 are special education teachers. There are also 15,799 special needs assistants.

Currently there are 3,965 schools in the Republic, of which 692 are Deis ( Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) primary schools and 198 Deis post-primary schools, with 134 special schools, 299 all-Irish schools, and 505 multi/interdenominational schools.

A total of 120, 848 pupils use school transport.

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