Litigation risk over school places for special needs pupils, internal records show

Children ‘pushed’ into special classes, department warns

Children with additional needs in mainstream classes risk being “pushed” into special schools or classes due to inadequate supports, according to internal Department of Education records.

It is Government policy to promote the mainstream education of children with additional needs, by providing supports such as resource teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs).

A document prepared by the department ahead of Budget 2022 – released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act – warned that a failure to secure enough special education teachers and SNAs would have a negative impact on children and could result in litigation.

The number of teachers and supports sought by the department versus what was offered by the Department of Public Expenditure has been redacted in the released document.


It states: “If we do not get the allocation of SET [special education teachers] and SNAs ... there is a significant risk of pushing more children into special schools and classes (with longer term greater costing and not in the best interests of the child to be educated in an inclusive setting) but also runs the risk of being unable to open sufficient special schools and classes.”

It added that this would “give rise to increased risk of litigation for children looking for specialist education placements”.

The document goes on to make the case for additional special education teachers, partly on the basis of the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable pupils in mainstream classes. It said while children in special schools returned to school earlier after the post-Christmas lockdown in 2021, children with special needs in mainstream were out of school for longer.

It warned that any losses arising from the re-profiling of supports for schools in 2022 could have a “very detrimental impact” on children.

“There is evidence in recent increases in demand for special classes that children, who previously had coped well in mainstream but had a recommendation for a special class placement, have now triggered the special class placement due to the challenges which they are experiencing,” the document states.

It said any removal of supports due to the re-profiling of supports for schools could see an increase in demand for special class placements.

Increasing the number of special education teachers for mainstream provision in 2022 “will moderate some but not all of that impact in the re-profiling process”.

In response to a query on whether the funding it sought had been released, a Department of Education spokeswoman said a total of €2 billion, or more than 25 per cent of its entire budget, was being spent on supports for children with special educational needs in 2022. She said the number of special education teachers, SNAs and special class and school places had reached record levels.

This included funding for an additional 1,165 SNAs and 980 new teacher posts in special education.

She said the measures will help ensure appropriate school placements are provided for children with special educational needs in 2022/23.

Adam Harris of the autism charity AsIAm said that while the increased allocation for special education was welcome, many families were still fighting for access to basic supports.

“Our surveys show that 28 per cent of parents of children with autism think their children do not have an appropriate school place and just over 50 per cent do not think the education system is inclusive,” he said.

“We consistently receive calls from parents who say they still cannot access the support their children require.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent