Press release from Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha MadiganTD:
I’m delighted that we have made significant progress over the last few weeks in terms of additional special classes being sanctioned in Dublin.
Since I announced that I would be using the section 37a process to compel schools to open classes across Dublin, there have been an additional 17 classes sanctioned, bringing the total number of new special classes sanctioned to date for the 22/23 school year to 332.
76 of these special classes have now been sanctioned in Dublin for the coming school year, providing much-needed additional special school places in the Dublin area. This will bring the total number of special classes to almost 2,500 nationally.
As part of this intense engagement, last month, my Department identified and 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. I am pleased to confirm that as a result of this process, 9 additional special classes have been sanctioned so far to open in the 2022/2023 school year.
Through intense discussions with two patron bodies, my Department is also making progress in relation to providing the necessary special school places on the North and South sides of Dublin during the coming school year. 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.
I want to thank 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.
My number one priority is to ensure that all children with additional needs will have access to a school place. I’ve made it clear that I believe every single school should provide special education provision and that is where we need to get to as a society. The new special classes have been sanctioned by the NCSE and schools can begin to recruit teachers and SNAs for these classes. 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.
In recent weeks my Department has also introduced new special education legislation which was brought through the Dáil Oireachtas with the support of all parties. The Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Act 2022 was signed into law by the President on 19 July 2022. This legislation provides for a truncated and more streamlined Section 37A process and will allow me as Minister for Special Education to compel a school to open a special class within a period of 6-8 weeks where necessary.
Of course all parties would prefer to see schools volunteer to provide more places rather than places being secured on the back of an order or a direction from the Minister. The evidence available this school-year is that the vast majority of schools are willing to work collaboratively with the Department and NCSE on the provision of new school places for children with special educational needs and I am confident that this will continue to be the way in which the vast majority of new classes are provided into the future.
The Section 37A process begins after receiving a report from the NCSE which states that a class in needed in a certain area. This emergency legislation streamlines the Section 37A process and includes a transitional provision to ensure that any work completed by the NCSE to date on the current Section 37A process is not lost and can be carried forward under the new legislation. This is a milestone piece of legislation for children with special educational needs and their families and will pave the way for every school to ultimately provide special class places.