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Law will compel schools to open classes for children with special educational needs in September

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Junior minister for special education Josepha Madigan and Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Collins

Junior minister for special education Josepha Madigan and Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Collins

There are 106 children in Dublin with special educational needs with no school place for the autumn. Photo: Barry Batchelor

There are 106 children in Dublin with special educational needs with no school place for the autumn. Photo: Barry Batchelor

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Junior minister for special education Josepha Madigan and Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Collins

Four primary schools in dispute with the Department of Education over opening classes for children with special educational needs (SEN) in the autumn will be compelled to do so under emergency legislation, if they do not volunteer.

Education Minister Norma Foley says a proposed new law approved by Cabinet yesterday may be used to ensure that schools open classes in September for children with special needs.

The legislation will truncate the legal process available to the minister to compel a school to open a special educational needs class if they do not agree to do so. Currently the process – known as Section 37A – takes four to 18 months. The new law will cut that to six to eight weeks.

The draft legislation approved by the Cabinet will be fast-tracked through the Oireachtas, with a view to being passed into law before the Dáil rises for the summer.

Ms Foley said Section 37A would be used as a last resort, where co-operation is not forthcoming and, in the first instance, they were happy to work through any issues with schools. There are 106 children in Dublin with SEN with no school place for the autumn – 56 awaiting a special class place and 50 awaiting a special school place.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the department are working to address the demand for special school places.

The 56 children awaiting a special class place was the figure before the current official engagement with 14 schools in Dublin. It follows recent agreement of eight other schools to open classes, which reduced the number of special class places required from 80 to 56.

The NCSE has advised the department there is an adequate supply of places throughout the remainder of the country, but Ms Foley acknowledged that some children may have to travel a distance to get to school.

A row broke out over the weekend when four of the 14 schools in Dublin were named and accused by Junior Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan of not being forthcoming with the department. The four schools have strenuously disputed that.

Ms Madigan stood over her comments yesterday and said the NCSE “assured me there was insufficient engagement from these schools and that there wasn’t going to be collaboration around special class space. If that continues, then they will be compelled to open further special class spaces.”


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