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130 special needs pupils in Dublin have no place in school for September

Junior Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan is under pressure to find a resolution


Junior Minister Josepha Madigan

Junior Minister Josepha Madigan

Junior Minister Josepha Madigan

The shortage of school places for pupils with special needs means more than 130 children across Dublin are still without an offer for September.

The shortfall is particularly acute in the capital, although other areas of the country, including Cork, are also suffering from a lack of capacity to meet demand.

In Dublin, 53 children with the most complex needs are still seeking admission to a special school, while another 80 are waiting for a place in a special class in a mainstream school.

Work is ongoing to reduce and clear those waiting lists, but Junior Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan is under increasing pressure to find speedy resolutions.

Parents in Dublin 15, in the west of the city, where at least 15 children with autism are still without an appropriate post-primary place for September, held a meeting earlier this week to highlight their predicament.

Ms Madigan has announced her intention to use a relatively new legal intervention, known as Section 37A, to oblige schools to open special classes where there is unmet demand locally. These classes are usually for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It will be the third time since 2018 that the mechanism has been used, and the first time it will be invoked to secure appropriate post-primary school places.

The minister is meeting with her officials and representatives of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) today to discuss the matter.

Ms Madigan said she would be issuing notices in areas “which desperately require additional special educational needs school places across the country”.

She said there was a collective responsibility to achieve the best results for children and parents, and that schools, the department and the NCSE had to work together on this.

“The overall aim of the Section 37 process is to ensure that sufficient specialist places become available to meet the current and projected need of an area,” she said.

“All parties would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from the minister.

“It’s important to state that this will not apply to every area and certainly will not affect the schools that have been engaging with the NCSE and department in good faith,” she added.

Adam Harris, chief executive of the autism charity AsIAm, welcomed the Section 37A move, but cautioned that “we have to recognise that, in the past, it has not always led to schools opening special classes”.

Mr Harris also called for a centralised database of children who did not have an appropriate place. He said some children were in a mainstream class, although they had a recommendation for a special class, some children “on paper” were in school but weren’t attending and in some cases parents were home schooling, because they had no choice.

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