Education authorities are scrambling to set up special classes and special schools for dozens of children with additional needs who do not have a school place for this September.
Josepha Madigan, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education, said additional special classes and three new special schools in Dublin and Cork will open “as soon as possible”. More definitive opening dates have not yet been provided.
The move follows concerns earlier this summer that more than 100 children with special educational needs did not have school places available for the new school year.
This prompted the enactment of emergency legislation to compel schools to open special classes within weeks.
Ms Madigan said on Wednesday the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has advised there will now be enough places to meet the expected need.
“My number one priority as Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education has been to ensure that every child in this country has access to a school place,” she said.
Campaigners, however, argue many more children who require appropriate school places are not included in official statistics, including those in inappropriate settings or those who are forced to travel long distances outside their communities.
On special classes, the Department of Education said the NCSE has sanctioned new special classes in schools over recent weeks in the Dublin and Cork areas.
It said those schools “may need some additional time” to complete their admission processes, recruit staff and work through any building and reconfiguration works.
“The NCSE are working directly with any schools in this situation to get these classes open as quickly as possible. Schools are also engaging directly with parents and are working to support children in advance of their transition into these new special classes. The NCSE is also providing training and supporting schools opening new special classes,” the department said in a statement.
In addition, three new special schools are being established — some in temporary premises — in the Dublin and Cork areas.
In north Dublin, St Michael’s House Special School in Foxfield will provide an additional 24 places. To enable this, the department has provided a second site in Drinan, Swords, as a temporary arrangement pending the proposed expansion of St Michael’s House in a new permanent school building on the site.
“St Michael’s House, the department, the NCSE and the school are working intensely to have these new places available for students as early as possible,” the department said.
It added that available places will be prioritised for children already on the St Michael’s House Special School Foxfield waiting list and children known to the NCSE without a special school place on the northside of Dublin.
It is expected that over the next few weeks those children already on the school waiting list will be offered places directly by the school board of management.
Local special education needs organisers will shortly contact the parents of children known to them to assist with making an application for admission.
In South Dublin, the department and the NCSE is “engaging” with the Spiritan Education Trust in relation to the opening of a new special school in the area.
The Spiritans — founders of Dublin schools Templeogue College, Blackrock College, St Michael’s College on the Merrion Road and St Mary’s College in Rathmines — recently agreed to establish special classes in their schools.
Templeogue College has been preparing for the development of special education on its campus in recent months.
The department said it is proposed to provide 24 places on a temporary basis, pending the building of a new permanent special school and special education facilities in an adjoining post-primary school.
A new principal is expected to be appointed shortly for the proposed special school, and it is expected that the school will then move to recruit staff and develop an admissions policy.
The department said it is working towards having these places available for students “during the new school year”.
In Cork, education authorities are planning for the opening of the new Rochestown Community Special School “during the coming school year”.
It said Cork Education and Training Board is recruiting a principal and staff for the new special school. The school is also working through its admission process for the new special school in collaboration with parents and the NCSE.
“It is envisaged that this school is expected to grow its capacity to provide up to 64 school places in the short to medium term, pending a new permanent school building being provided,” the department said.
In a statement, Ms Madigan said “significant progress” has been achieved over the last few months in terms of additional special classes being sanctioned by the NCSE.
“Since I announced that I would be using the section 37a process to compel schools to open classes across the country, the department and the NCSE have been working tirelessly with school communities to increase the amount of special classes,” she said.
A record 2,535 special classes will open their doors — an increase of 383 classes from the previous school year — for almost 16,000 pupils with additional needs.