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Six schools told to offer more special education places by Minister

With schools set to return next week, hundreds of pupils across Ireland have yet to be given a place.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh
Minister for Education Joe McHugh
Image: SIPA USE/PA IMAGES

MINISTER FOR EDUCATION Joe McHugh has told six schools in Dublin to provide more critically needed special education places. 

McHugh confirmed that letters had been sent to six schools in the Dublin 15 area setting out the need to make more places available for children with special educational needs ahead of this school year. 

With schools set to return next week, hundreds of pupils across Ireland have yet to be given a place. 

This is the second statutory notice that has been sent to schools in the area after shortages were identified by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) earlier this year. 

The NCSE wrote to McHugh in April informing him of its view that there is insufficient special school and special class capacity in Dublin 15, and special class capacity in County Kildare for September.

In May, McHugh wrote to 22 schools in the Dublin 15 area to request they give serious consideration to a request to open special classes. 

On 27 June, the department served statutory notices on 18 schools and two patrol bodies in the Dublin 15 area “communicating the Minister’s opinion that they should make additional provision for children with special educational needs”. 

Figures from the Department of Education and Skills show that, since 2011, the number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from 548 to 1,621 for 2019-2020 school year.

Campaigners, however, have consistently voiced concerns ahead of this school year, saying that hundreds of children with autism and special needs are without appropriate school places ahead of the school term. 

Earlier this year, autism charity AsIAm published a survey which found that, while the problem is most acute in Dublin, there are cases all across the country.

The survey found 313 of the 1,000 families who participated had a child without a school place, not attending school due to a lack of suitable school space or due to a lack of support, or because they were on a reduced timetable.

Earlier this month, technical teams from the Department visited schools in Dublin to carry out first-hand assessments of the accommodation and consider suitability for additional special classes.

In a statement today, McHugh said: “I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children as we work to secure more places. It is a priority issue for the Department”. 

He said that he would prefer if children were welcomed into school without the need for legal compulsion. 

However, McHugh added: “The Education Act provides for a very transparent series of steps which can ultimately lead to the issuing of a direction to a board of management requiring it to make additional places available. The issue of the notices to the six schools today is another step in that process.”

“I am determined to do my utmost to ensure every child is allocated a suitable school place,” McHugh said. 

“It is my hope that this issue be resolved in this area in the coming weeks.”

The schools issued with the statutory notice have 14 days in which to make representations to the Minister.

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