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New law to speed up provision of special education

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The situation was criticised by opposition parties in the Dáil last week, when Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty (pictured) called for emergency legislation. Picture by Tom Burke

The situation was criticised by opposition parties in the Dáil last week, when Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty (pictured) called for emergency legislation. Picture by Tom Burke

The situation was criticised by opposition parties in the Dáil last week, when Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty (pictured) called for emergency legislation. Picture by Tom Burke

Schools will be compelled to open classes for those with special educational needs within weeks under new legislation to be brought to the Cabinet on Tuesday.

It means they could open between now and the start of the next school year. Until now, it could take over a year to get a school to open a class.

New legislation being brought by Education Minister Norma Foley aims to speed up the process and improve access to special education.

It comes after the Government was criticised last week in a Children’s Ombudsman report that found the State is failing children with special educational needs who cannot secure appropriate school places.

The report highlighted the experiences of parents who were unable to source places to meet their children’s needs.

The situation was criticised by opposition parties in the Dáil last week, and Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty called for emergency legislation to address the issue.

New legislation to be discussed by the Cabinet this week would update part of the Education Act 2018, allowing a minister to compel a school to make provisions for children with special educational needs in cases where the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has not been able to secure necessary placements.

Currently, the minister has to issue four separate notices to a school, and each must be considered before moving to the next stage.

Schools may agree to open a special class at any stage of this process, but on the two occasions to date when a ministerial order was needed, the process took four months and 18 months respectively to complete.

A government source said it is envisaged that the proposed changes to the legislation “should allow the minister to issue directions to schools within a six- to eight-week period” after getting a report from the NCSE.

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They said the proposed legislation should strengthen the obligations on schools to work with the NCSE when asked to open a new special class or expand special provision.

“The legislation will have a benefit in the short term in relation to the provision of places for the upcoming school year,” the source said.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into) and the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) yesterday criticised the Department of Education’s handling of cases involving schools in Dublin, which they said “raised reasonable concerns relating to a lack of resources required to deliver a quality education to students with special educational needs”.

In a joint statement, the unions said they were angered by a decision to name the 14 schools the department identified as having additional capacity. Ms Foley told RTÉ last week that this was done in the interests of transparency.

The unions said the presence of spare capacity in a school should not be seen as sufficient capability to increase special education provision, because other factors need to be considered, such as adapting school facilities, extra recruitment and training as well as amending school admission policies.

They said that given the end of the school term “is mere days away”, the Department of Education should ensure no ministerial notices are issued to schools before they reopen in September.

“All education partners support the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs who deserve the appropriate resources, training and facilities to be in place to enable such inclusion within the local school community,” they said.


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