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Tuesday 28 March 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# special education centres
Communication of plans for special needs education ‘less than ideal’, Harris says
The Higher Education minister said it’s “absolutely essential” that the number of special education classes in mainstream schools is increased.

THE MINISTER FOR Higher Education Simon Harris says elements of the communication around government proposals to open designated education centres for children with special educational needs has been “less than ideal”.

It emerged in a report in the Irish Times this week that the government plans to open five so-called “special education centres” later this year as an emergency measure in response to a shortage of appropriate school places.

The proposal prompted a swift backlash from parents and advocacy groups, who have expressed concerns that it will end up being a permanent measure rather than a temporary fix.

Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan subsequently said the proposal “is in development and is still at a very early stage”.

Simon Harris said today that it’s very important that there’s very intensive engagement with stakeholders, particularly parents of children with special educational needs, about the plans.

“It’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to increase the number of special education classes in mainstream schools. Remember, these are children who have been assessed as needing to attend mainstream school with special additional supports. Those supports should be put in place,” Harris said.

“I think the phrase ‘centre’ did offend people and I also think the way the information came into the public domain, as my colleague Minister Madigan acknowledged, was less than ideal. So, it’s really important to find a solution,” he added.

Inclusion Ireland, which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, said it was “shocked and appalled” by the proposal, describing it as being “like ten steps backwards on the path to inclusive education”.

Minister Harris acknowledged that many parents are under “massive stress” due to the situation but said significant progress has been made in terms of inclusion and special needs education.

“The first thing I’d say is nobody wants to go backwards. We’ve made a lot of progress as a country in terms of inclusion, in terms of special needs education. We’re still on a journey, we’ve more to do,” he said.

“It’s important that we try and find a solution, and a way forward that works for everyone. Most importantly, it works for children, who absolutely have a legal entitlement, a constitutional right – and an ethical obligation on us – to support their education within their community.”

The higher education minister plans to bring proposals to Cabinet next week which aim to increase inclusion of people with disabilities in third-level education.

Harris was speaking at the launch of the next phase of construction of the Royal College of Surgeons’ (RCSI) campus development in Dublin city centre. He said the development is going to have a “real public benefit”.

“It’s going to literally move the front door of this wonderful university in Ireland onto Stephen’s Green. I think it’ll be transformational for the city, as well as really progressive for medical education,” he said.

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