South Dublin schools may be forced to open more special needs places
Minister for Education activates new law which direct schools to open special classes
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has identified more than 80 children in the area who require a place in a special school or special class in the south Dublin area this year or next, but do not have one. Photograph: iStock
Minister for Education Joe McHugh has warned schools in the south Dublin area that he is prepared to use new powers to direct them to provide more places for children with special needs.
This follows long-running protests from parents and campaigners who say they have been unable to secure appropriate school places for their children in the area.
Many of these parents say their children are on home tuition or are are forced to travel long distances across the city to access school places.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has identified more than 80 children in the area who require a place in a special school or special class in the south Dublin area this year or next, but do not have one.
On Thursday Mr McHugh confirmed that he has formally activated new legislation which can lead to the issuing of a statutory notice ordering schools to accommodation children with special needs.
He took similar steps regarding shortages in the Dublin 15 area recently, which led to the establishment of a new special school in the area, as well as special classes in six schools.
In a statement, Mr McHugh urged principals, boards of management and school patrons across south Dublin to offer to increase places for children with special needs.
“I would prefer to see school principals, boards of management and patrons volunteer to provide more places,” he said.
“We want to see children with special needs in a welcoming school environment. Their presence will enrich a school ... I am concerned that engagement with schools in south Dublin has not secured sufficient special education provision but I am also conscious that schools need to be properly supported to provide special education.”
Many schools argue that they are unable to open special classes due to capacity constraints, or due to concerns over a lack of resources and support for special education.
For example, some school in the area say they have lost out on special needs assistants under changes in the way resources are allocated and worry they will not be equipped to cope with more children with special needs.
Mr McHugh said he appreciated the concerns of principals and their staff, but he was committed to ensuring a “partnership approach” will provide sufficient special education school places in south Dublin.
“Providing support, care and education for a child with special needs can bring worries and concerns that not everyone can fully appreciate. It is our job to try and eliminate some of the additional difficulties and stresses,” he said.
“It would be preferable to see schools offering to provide more places for these children rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me. It is the right thing for the children in a community.”
In advance of ordering a school to open special classes, there are a series of consultation steps which the Minister must take.
The law, for example, allows for the NCSE to test the capacity of schools in an area to provide more special education.
Ultimately, the Minister can invoke a power to direct a school to provide additional special education provision.
Mr McHugh said the experience of Dublin 15 showed that real and practical challenges could be addressed by working together to provide additional special class and special school places.
He thanked education partners for t the way they worked with the Department of Education to ensure the need for additional places in north Dublin.
It is open to any school to apply to the NCSE to open a special class for children with special educational needs.
The department says a package of teaching, special needs assistants, training and funding supports are available to assist schools.
Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to the department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.
Normally, special class and school places are established with the full cooperation of the schools in areas where they are required.