Hundreds of children with autism, special needs without appropriate school places

Total of 384 children are in receipt of home tuition grants, latest figures show

Minister for Education Joe McHugh: ‘I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children as we work to secure more places. It is a priority issue for the department.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Education Joe McHugh: ‘I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children as we work to secure more places. It is a priority issue for the department.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Hundreds of children with autism or special needs are without appropriate school places ahead of the start of the new school year, new figures indicate.

A total of 384 children are in receipt of home tuition grants, which are provided to children on an interim basis on a number of grounds, including the absence of a place in a recognised school, according to latest Department of Education figures.

In addition, special needs campaigners and parents say many more children with complex problems are in inappropriate school placements or pre-school settings that do not meet their assessed needs.

This, they say, is due to a shortage of places in special schools, which means many end up in special classes attached to mainstream schools lacking specialised supports.

The department said it had invested record sums in special education and the number of special classes in schools had jumped from 548 to 1,459 since 2011.

In the Dublin 15 area, where shortages of school places are most acute, the department has issued “statutory notices” which legally oblige six schools to make more school places available.

‘Stress and anxiety’

“I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children as we work to secure more places. It is a priority issue for the department,” Minister for Education Joe McHugh said.

In a statement, the National Council for Special Education – which advises the department – said it was aware only a “small number” of children with special needs in the greater Dublin area were still without school places.

However, many campaigners say the scale of shortages is far bigger than is officially acknowledged and that there is a lack of data being gathered on the ground.

A parents survey carried out by the autism charity AsIAm earlier this year found more than 300 cases of children who were either without a school place or not attending school regularly.

Adam Harris, the charity’s chief executive, said the department’s response at the time was that they were satisfied that sufficient school places existed.

‘Crisis’

“As we enter a new academic year and there are still a plethora of children unable to attend school, the department and the Minister must take responsibility and address this crisis in a meaningful way,” he said.

“It is essential we bear in mind that these children do not simply need school places but ‘suitable’ school places as outlined in psychological assessments and in line with the views and experiences of their parents. This means where an autism class or special school is recommended the department must put this in place – otherwise we will simply see these children fall out of school.”