The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (Thursday 14th November) urged principals, boards of management and patrons across south Dublin to offer to increase places for children with special needs.
The Minister made the call as he confirmed that legislation has been formally activated following a report by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which identified a shortage of special school and special class places right across south Dublin.
It is the second time the power under section 37A of the Education Act 1998 (as inserted by section 8 of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018) has been used.
The Minister said: “The issue of special education provision is a priority for me. The Department and the NCSE are committed to working in partnership with schools in south Dublin to solve the issue of the need for more special education provision.
“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.”
Some 167 new special classes opened this year. There are now 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011.
Provision in special schools has also increased from 6,848 placements in 2011 to 7,872 this year, with over 1,500 teachers in 124 Special Schools.
Section 37A affords the Minister the power to direct schools to make additional special education provision available and ensure sufficient places are provided.
The law 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.
Under the law a number of steps must be taken before that direction can be made.
The Minister added: “I would prefer to see school principals, boards of management and patrons volunteer to provide more places.
“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.
“I appreciate the concerns of principals and their staff but my message to them is this – I am committed to ensuring that a partnership approach will ensure we provide sufficient special education school places in south Dublin.
“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.”
The section 37A legislation was activated for the first time last April in the Dublin 15 area.
It led to the establishment of Danu Special School as well as six schools offering to open special classes.
Minister McHugh said: “The experience of Dublin 15 shows that real and practical challenges can be addressed by working together to provide additional special class and special school places.
“I want to thank Dublin & Dún Laoghaire ETB, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and senior clergy for their leadership and the way they worked with the Department to ensure we could answer the need for additional places in north Dublin.”
Notes for Editors
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.
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.
Funding for the provision of home tuition is available to parents as a short term arrangement for children who cannot secure a suitable placement.
The NCSE has identified 82 children needing specialist school places for this or next year in south Dublin.
Section 37A of the Education Act 1998
The legislation gives the Minister the power to direct a school to provide additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed.
A number of specific steps, as set down in the legislation, must be followed before the order can be made.
The process is transparent.
They include –
:: The NCSE must first form the opinion that there is an insufficient number of places in an area and write to the Minister outlining the reasons and type of placements required.
:: Next the NCSE, in consultation with the relevant education stakeholders, must test the capacity among schools in the area. If the NCSE remains of the opinion that there is an insufficient number of places, it must provide a report to the Minister outlining the schools that should be requested to make additional provision and other matters the NCSE considers appropriate.
:: If the Ministers agrees, he then serves a statutory notice on the schools identified who then have the right to make representations to the Minister.
:: The Minister considers the representations and following any consultations with the patrons involve, he may issue a further statutory notice to the schools.
:: At each stage of the process, the school is given the opportunity to make representations.
:: There is also an option for arbitration.
:: Statutory notices issued under the Act together with the representations received from the schools are published on the Department’s website.