Special needs school places in south Dublin

 

Sir, – You report (Home News, November 14th) that Minister for Education Joe McHugh is warning schools in south Dublin that he may use new powers to direct them to accommodate children with special needs in the area.

However, his department has long practised a specific policy that is directly contributing to this shortage of suitable school placements for children with autism in south Dublin.

While non-fee paying schools may apparently now be forced to open ASD special classes – recognised as an essential support for many children on the autistic spectrum in enabling them to attend mainstream schools – the Department of Education will actually not allow, much less mandate, any fee-paying school to do so.

Of the approximately 50 fee-paying secondary schools in Ireland, over half are located in South Dublin. This inevitably means that there are far fewer non-fee-paying schools operating in the region than in any other part of the country.

Because so many of the total available school places in the region are in fee-paying schools, an impossible burden is being placed on the relatively much smaller number of local non-fee-paying schools.

The latter are somehow expected to provide for all of the children in the area who need the support of an ASD special class – and upon the many vulnerable children who inevitably will either continue to be forced to commute huge distances away from their communities every day to get the education they are legally entitled to, or will drop out of the education system entirely.

If Mr McHugh truly wishes to address this problem, he needs to use his existing powers to change his own department’s policy first. – Yours, etc,

NICK KELLY,

Dublin 6.