Several private schools in south Dublin plan to enrol students with special needs for first time

Funded special classes to be established in private sector with fees waived

A number of private schools in south Dublin plan to enrol students with learning disabilities who have been assessed as requiring special classes for the first time.

Until now it has been Department of Education policy not to fund special classes in private schools.

However, under an agreement with the Spiritans – founders of Blackrock College, St Michael's College on Merrion Road, St Mary's College in Rathmines and Templeogue College in Dublin - special classes will be funded in these schools as long as qualifying students are enrolled without having to pay fees.

The agreement also includes fee-charging primary schools attached to these schools including Willow Park, St Michael's Junior and St Mary's Junior schools.

Special classes typically provide education for children with additional needs in mainstream schools.

These smaller classes - typically six students to one teacher and two special needs assistants - cater to the needs of young people who require more specialised support and might not cope in a regular classroom.

The department’s policy of not funding special classes for private schools has been a significant barrier for students with additional needs in the south Dublin area where there is a high concentration of fee-charging schools.

The department previously defended the practice on the basis that access to special classes should be available on “the basis of children’s need rather than their ability to pay”.

The Spiritan Education Trust agreement with the Department of Education means these students will be exempt from fees under new access routes. In addition, the trust has pledged to make land available on its school campuses to provide special schools, as required.

It says this will be done by way of long-term licensing arrangements which avoid any site costs being incurred by the department.

The initial focus aims to maximise opportunities for special education at the Templeogue College - which is not fee-paying - as part of an overall development of the campus.

This will include a four-classroom base for about 24 students with special educational needs at the college.

In addition, there are plans to relocate Cheeverstown School, a special school currently located on a temporary site in Templeogue with about 20 pupils, to the college campus.

Enrolment priority

In terms of special classes at fee-charging schools, the Spiritan Trust has agreed that priority enrolment will be determined by educational authorities based on pupils’ needs, rather than having a sibling or a parent who was a past-pupil.

More broadly, Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan have announced details of the expansion of special education places in Dublin and Cork, with a particular focus on the 2022/23 school year.

The special education system has been under acute pressure for some time with many families saying that they have been unable to access school places which meet their children’s needs.

The expanded provision in Dublin and Cork includes:

* An additional six places for children at Casa Caterina School, Cabra for the 2022/23 school-year;

* An additional six places at Danú Community Special School, Dublin 15;

* An additional seven places at Our Lady of Hope School, Crumlin;

* A new special school in Rochestown, Cork that will provide for the enrolment of about 30 children with autism and complex learning needs during the 2022/23 school year;

* Carraigaline Community Special School will expand by 16 places to an enrolment of 48 for the 2022/23 school year;

* St Killian’s Special School, Mayfield, will expand to provide for the enrolment of 18 additional students in September, 2022;

Ms Madigan said planning is also underway for the provision of new school buildings for a number of special schools in Dublin under the patronage of St. Michael’s House. This will provide additional capacity in both the north and south Dublin areas.

“At this time of year, many families are applying for school places for their children. It can be a period of anxiety,” Ms Madigan said.

“Today’s announcement is about saying to families that we understand the pressures you are facing, we are on your side, and we are committed to ensuring that as many places as possible are available.”

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