Department to engage ‘intensely’ with schools to open special classes - Foley

More than 100 children with special educational needs do not have an appropriate school place

The Department of Education and National Council for Special Education (NCSE) will continue to engage “intensely” with school authorities to open new special classes, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.

Ms Foley said there are more than 100 children with special educational needs who do not have an appropriate school place for this September.

The minister was speaking on Friday as the Dáil debated the Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Bill 2022.

The legislation will enable the department to compel schools to provide special classes for children with special educational needs within six to eight weeks of receiving a report from the NCSE setting out its opinion that there are insufficient school places in a certain area.

The current Section 37A process can take between 12 to 18 months to secure a school place for a child. The Government hopes to have the legislation in place for the coming school year.

Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan said “every single school” should provide special education provision and “that is where we need to get to as a society”.

“I know we’re not there yet and that is reality facing some families in this country at the moment,” she said.

“That is where we must get to and I believe we will get there because we have to as there’s no other option.”

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said there were parents, particularly in Dublin, who do not have a school place for their children for September which was “not acceptable” and was a failure of politics and policy.

The Cork South-Central TD said the legislation would help this situation in the short-term but that “much more” was needed.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said four schools being publicly named on the department’s website as well as comments from Ms Madigan in a radio interview over the weekend were “deeply frustrating and unhelpful”.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Saturday, Ms Madigan alleged that four named Dublin primary schools were “not engaging at all” with officials over plans to create more spaces for children with special educational needs.

The Dublin Central TD said one of the schools named by the minister was in his constituency and felt obligated to raise the issue.

“Each of these four schools were able to show clear engagement with the department,” said Mr Gannon.

“It is my view that they have been misrepresented. One of the schools even had a visit from a department official just a day before their name was published.

“Many of these schools already have a special class and have first-hand experience of being under-resourced. What surprised me most is the fact that some of the established schools nestled within the leafy suburbs of Dublin, which have no special classes at all, have not received the same treatment. I do not believe this helpful in any way, shape or form.”

Labour TD Duncan Smith said while he welcomed the legislation, it was a shame it was “amidst a bundle of other pieces of legislation that are coming through the House in breakneck speed as we rattle towards the Dáil recess”.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times