Sunday 21 July 2019

Hundreds of special needs children lack school place

Stock Image: Getty Images
Stock Image: Getty Images
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Up to 1,000 children a year are being forced to stay at home because they cannot get a school place.

Overwhelmingly, it is children with special educational needs (SEN) - often those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - who are worst hit.

The crisis is laid bare in Department of Education figures showing that 872 children with a SEN who cannot get a school place were on a home tuition grant in 2017/18, up 11pc on an already high figure of 784 two years earlier.

They were mainly aged three to five - the time at which they are due to start their formal education - with 808 of the 872 in 2017/18 in that bracket.

Children with ASD are entitled to early education intervention from the age of three.

At primary level, the children generally need a specialist place, such as in a special class in a mainstream school or a place in a special school.

There has also been an increase in children without a special need on a home tuition grant because of lack of a school place - up to 125 in the school year just ended, from 91 in 2017/18 and 113 in 2015/16.

The department pays for home tuition when a child cannot get a place - but this can bring its own problems, with parents having to source the teacher and, even when they do, the arrangement may not work out.

The department provided the figures, broken down by county, in a reply to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil's education spokesperson Thomas Byrne.

The difficulties facing parents have come to a head in the fast-growing Dublin 15 community, where it previously emerged that in 2017/18, there were 56 children on a home tuition grant.

Among them was an 11-year-old on their fifth year of home schooling.

The National Council for Special Education identified 88 children with an SEN in Dublin 15 who needed a specialist school place in September, but could not get one.

With weeks to go to the start of the new academic year, 40 of those children still have not been accepted anywhere, and Education Minister Joe McHugh is flexing his new legal powers. School admissions legislation enacted last year allows him to compel a school to make provision for a child with special needs, but that is seen as a last resort.

However, Mr McHugh has taken initial steps. The reply to Mr Byrne states that the department has written to a number of schools in Dublin 15, advising them of the minister's opinion that they should make additional provision for children with a SEN.

If a school continues to state it cannot accept a child, it will have to explain why.

Schools may argue they do not have the space to accommodate a special class, but the department is offering to fund building or reconfiguration works.

Irish Independent

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