Sunday 20 October 2019

Impasse over school places for children with autism in Dublin 15 nears resolution

Education Minister Joe McHugh
Education Minister Joe McHugh
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The impasse over school places for children with autism in the Dublin 15 area has been broken.

Seven primary schools have now agreed to open special classes while discussions are under way with an eighth to accommodate the remaining children.

Education Minister Joe McHugh announced the breakthrough as he faced a Fianna Fáil private members’ motion highlighting the lack of school spaces for children with special educational needs.

Earlier this year it emerged that 88 children in the fast-growing Dublin 15 suburbs who needed a specialist school place this September, had no offer.

Schools argued they did not have the capacity, either in terms of accommodation or staff expertise to cater for the children, prompting the minister to invoke new legislative powers that allows him  to compel schools to open classes.

While one of the seven schools opened a class voluntary, agreement on the other six followed the activation of the legislation. An eighth school, Ladyswell NS, Mulhuddart  is in discussions with the Department of Education building unit.

Many parents said their children needed a special school rather than a special class in a mainstream school,  and 40 of the 88 children are being catered for in the new Danu Community Special School, under the  patronage of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board,

The seven special  classes will provide places for 42 children with the other six children yet to be accommodated.

Initially, the Department of Education wrote to 22 schools in the area about the need for more special education provision, but later accepted that some were not in a position to accede.

Subsequently the minister served statutory notices on a number of schools and there has been robust engagement between his officials and school representatives, including the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, the main school patron in the area.

Mr McHugh thanked principals, school management and patrons, in particular Dr Martin, for their “honest and open engagement with the legal process.”

He accepted that the lack of suitable school places had “caused much anguish for parents and families” adding that “we have made significant progress in a relatively short period and the new places will help these families and ensure that the children concerned have access to education.”

Meanwhile, the minister confirmed in the Dáil last week that some parents in South Dublin and Cork are experiencing similar difficulty securing school places for their children.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has advised the Department of Education that the legislation may need to be invoked in the near future, if sufficient schools did not respond voluntarily.

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