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South Dublin schools urged to open more special needs places to tackle shortage

McHugh has activated new legislation which directs schools to open more special classes.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

MINISTER FOR EDUCATION Joe McHugh has appealed to primary schools across south Dublin to increase places for children with special needs. 

A report by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) identified 82 children needing specialist school places for this or next year in the south Dublin region due to shortages in both special and mainstream schools. 

Under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998, McHugh has the power to direct schools to make additional special education provision available and ensure sufficient places are provided. 

In a statement this evening, McHugh said he would prefer to see schools volunteering more places rather than “places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from me”. 

Under the legislation, several steps must be followed before any order or direction is made. The NCSE has to form the opinion that there is an insufficient number in an area, the minister must serve a statutory notice to schools and then he has to consider representations from all of the parties involved.

Consultation has been ongoing with schools across the region, according to the department, but it has not as yet resulted in an agreement to offer additional places.

The section 37A legislation was activated for the first time last April in the Dublin 15 area, leading to the establishment of Danu Special School as well as six schools offering to open special classes.

“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,” McHugh said. 

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.”

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on education Thomas Byrne criticised McHugh for not acting sooner on the issue. 

“While the activation of the powers contained within the ‘Admissions to Schools Act’ is welcome, the Minister has been informed of the issue by the NSCE for a number of months already.” 

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