25 September, 2019 - Minister McHugh announces schools in Dublin 15 which have opened special/autism classes following activation of Section 37A of the Education Act

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (Wednesday September 25) announced that seven primary schools in the Dublin 15 area have agreed to open autism classes for this school year.

The classes will provide places for 42 children.

Along with the opening of the new Danu Community Special School, a total of 88 places for children with special needs and autism have now been secured following discussions with patrons, principals and schools management since April.

Six of the new classes follow the activation of Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 which is designed to ensure that suitable school places are provided for children with special educational needs where required. One class was provided voluntarily.

Minister McHugh thanked principals, school management and patrons, in particular Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, for their honest and open engagement with the legal process.

“I know that the lack of suitable school places has caused much anguish for parents and families. But we have made significant progress in a relatively short period and the new places will help these families and ensure that the children concerned have access to education,” Minister McHugh said.

“The pattern is being replicated in other parts of the country with 1,050 new places for children with special education needs being provided in our schools in the last year.”

Section 37A is a transparent process which can ultimately result in the Minister issuing a binding direction to schools to establish additional classes for children with special needs.

Last April, the process was activated after the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) informed the Department under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 of a shortage of school places for children with special educational needs in the Dublin 15 area. This following an extended and intensive engagement with schools in the area, seeking their willingness to open a special class.

The series of steps followed:

  • April 18th - The legislation was formally activated following a report from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) outlining insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15.
  • April 30th – Minister McHugh appealed to schools and patrons to make more provision for children with special education for September 2019.
  • May 27th – Minister McHugh wrote to the principals and chairpersons of boards of management in 22 schools in Dublin 15 requesting that they give serious consideration to the need for more special education provision.
  • May 28th - The establishment of the new Danu Community Special School, under the patronage of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ETB, was confirmed, with places for 40 children with special needs for the 2019/20 school year.
  • June 27th - The Department served statutory notices under Section 37A (5) on 18 schools and 2 patrons in Dublin 15. These notices communicated my opinion that they should make additional provision for children with special educational needs.
  • 30 July 30th & August 1st – Consultations on the need for additional special education provision took place with two patron bodies.
  • August 7th - Technical teams began site visits, with 10 schools initially, to carry out first-hand assessments of the accommodation available and consider its suitability for additional provision of special classes.
  • August 23rd – Second legal notice served under Section 37A on 6 schools in  Dublin 15
  • August 30th – Consultation with boards of management and principals of the six schools
  • September 3rd – Site visits to schools completed
  • Week commencing September 9th – Consideration of representations received from schools who were served S37A notices on August 23rd - 6 schools agreed to open classes
  • September 27th – Planning meeting with principals of 6 schools who have agreed to open classes is to take place

Minister McHugh added: “The experience of Dublin 15 shows the real and practical challenges that can be addressed when opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership. We will continue to do engage to get these classes open as soon as possible and ensure teachers get the training they need.

“Undoubtedly there will be some refining of our approach to using the powers and to make the legal more effective but also more collaborative, taking concerns of schools on board.”

Minister McHugh will also discuss the availability of clinical supports for children with Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Ends

Notes to editors

Dublin 15

-          Copies of the notices and representations received from the schools in D15 are published on the Department’s website as provided for under the Act here: https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/Supports-for-Pupils-with-Special-Needs/section-37a-notices/

-          Following the confirmation of the establishment of the Danu Special School under the patronage of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board, the need for eight additional classes was identified to accommodate 48 students.

-          Seven classes have been confirmed. One is outstanding and work continues with patrons to secure it.

-          The new classes which will be coming on stream are the result of very intense engagement between the Department, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), patron bodies and schools.

-          It is open to any school to apply to seek to open a special class for children with special educational needs and Irish schools have a strong tradition in catering for children with special needs.

-          There is a package of teaching, special needs assistants, training and funding supports available to schools. When the NCSE sanctions a special class in a school, the school can apply to the Department for capital funding to re-configure existing spaces within the school building to accommodate the class and/or to construct additional accommodation.

-          Similarly, where special schools wish to expand provision, the school can apply to the Department for capital funding to accommodate additional placements.

 

Nationwide

The Department together with the NCSE are monitoring the availability of class places for children with special needs throughout the country as a priority issue and will continue to work with relevant stakeholders.

The necessary steps, including the Section 37A process, will continue to be expedited to ensure that children with special needs are provided with access to a suitable education.

The Department works closely with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has responsibility for working with families and schools and for the provision and coordination of an adequate number of specialist educational places to meet local demand throughout the country.

It is open to any school to apply to the NCSE to open a special class for children with special educational needs. There is a package of teaching, special needs assistants, training and funding supports available to assist schools.

Funding for the provision of home tuition is available to parents as a short term arrangement for children who cannot secure a suitable placement.