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Minister says there is ‘significant progress’ on school places for special needs pupils


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Significant progress has been made in the creation of more school places in Dublin for children with special needs in September.

Junior Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan said there should now be enough places to meet demand.

The minister announced nine additional special classes have now been agreed in Dublin.

Progress is also being made in relation to providing the necessary special school places in both the north and south side of Dublin during the school year, she said,

“The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) believes that these new classes and special school places will now provide the necessary places to meet the level of demand for this September, “ Ms Madigan said.

The issue has been the subject of major controversy, as it emerged last month that up 106 children in Dublin still had no place in either a special class or a special school for the autumn.

It led to Education Minister Norma Foley and Ms Madigan rushing through new legislation that would compel schools to take in pupils in September, if they did not volunteer.

While such powers already existed, under what is known as Section 37A, the new law, which came into effect on July 25, shortens the process to six to eight weeks, rather than stretching to up to 18 months.

In relation to the special classes in mainstream schools the minister said there had been “ intense engagement” over the past month.

She said the Department of Education issued letters to the patrons of 14 schools that had been identified as having capacity which could be used to allow schools to open special classes.

Ms Madigan thanked the schools, the boards of managements and the patrons for “their co-operation in helping to deliver additional places for children with special educational needs”.

She said new special classes had been sanctioned and schools can begin to recruit teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) for these classes.

The minister added that the NCSE is also available to assist schools in working through their admissions processes to offer places in these new classes to students.

“My department continues to work with some schools where some minor building and reconfiguration works need to be completed,” she added.

Overall, in recent weeks, engagement between the Department, the NCSE and schools has yielded an additional 17 classes in Dublin.

It brings the number of new special classes sanctioned to date for the 2022/23 school year to 332 – 76 of which are in Dublin – and the total nationally to almost 2,500.

The Section 37A process was invoked this year, for the third time in Dublin since 2019, to address the special classes/special school places issue.

A Department of Education spokesperson said was intended to proceed with the current Section 37A process to meet the expected continued increase in demand for special class places.

“This reflects the current Assessment of Needs backlog which will likely give rise to increased demand and it also allows for special class places to be made available for students from Ukraine if necessary,” the spokesperson added.

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