Schools may be forced to open places for special needs children – Madigan

‘No other option’ but to take ‘substantive action’, says Minister of State for Special Education

Schools may be forced to open places for special needs children who cannot find a place, Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan has indicated.

In a series of posts on Twitter on Tuesday evening, Ms Madigan said she felt she had “no other option” but to take “substantive action” and use powers available to her to try and ensure “every child gets the supports they need and access to a school placement”.

Ms Madigan, her spokesman said on Thursday, will meet with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Department on Thursday – which will determine the scope and extent of the actions to be taken, including how many schools will be impacted, and where they are located.

“We have to look at every option available to [Ms Madigan] and she is looking at every option available to her to ensure every child has a place,” her spokesman said. “Clearly there has been issues with filling places and clearly that’s what this is all about,” he said.

The powers have been used on two occasions in Dublin, Ms Madigan said on Twitter, adding: “I feel now is the right time to use them again.”

She said that where schools have been co-operating with the NCSE to open a special class she will not use the so-called section 37a powers.

“But where necessary I will,” she said.

She said that the number of Special Needs Assistants has increased by 81 per cent since 2011, to 19,169, and the number of special educational needs teachers has risen by 48 per cent in the same period, to 14,385.

“But I know for parents who cannot find a place for their child, those statistics mean nothing to them,” she said, saying this is why she had arrived at her decision.

RTÉ’s Prime Time programme on Tuesday evening featured the plight of a north Dublin family who are struggling to find places in schools for their autistic twins, or to access services and supports to help their development