Education | Special needs education in Co. Kildare
To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which an adequacy of school places exists for children in all areas throughout the country including County Kildare and with particular reference to children with special needs at primary and or secondary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
I would like to thank the Deputy for the question and would like to reassure him that enabling all children, including children with special educational needs (SEN) to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government.
Firstly, in relation to the provision of mainstream school places, as the Deputy will be aware, for school planning purposes, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas and utilises a Geographical Information System to anticipate school place demand. Information from a range of sources, including Child Benefit data, school enrolment data and information on residential development activity is used for this purpose. Additionally, Project Ireland 2040 population and housing targets inform my Department’s projections of school place requirements. Projections of post primary school place requirements are informed by multiple factors, including primary school enrolments in the area and primary to post primary transfer patterns.
While my Department is aware of increasing pressures and demand for additional school places in Kildare, it is important to note that where enrolment pressures arise, it may not be as a result of lack of accommodation but may be driven by the following factors:
- Duplication of applications – pupils have applied for a place to a number of schools in the area
- School of choice – pupils can’t get a place in their preferred school while there are places in other schools in the town/area
- Some towns/areas have single sex schools and while places are available in the school they are not available to all pupils
- External draw – pupils coming from outside the local area
My Department is working to establish the true extent of any capacity issues across school planning areas through ongoing discussions with the relevant school patrons and authorities. Particular engagement is underway with school authorities and patrons of post primary schools in the Newbridge, Kildare and Curragh areas with a view to confirming school place requirements.
The close engagement with schools and patrons will allow my Department to identify at an early stage particular capacity requirements for the forthcoming years which may necessitate further action to that already in train including, where required, the provision of modular accommodation solutions. Work to provide additional capacity at Curragh Community College for the 2023/24 school year is underway as part of this planning process.
Secondly in relation to special education, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children with special educational needs nationwide.
It is important to note that where possible, children with special educational needs should be accommodated in mainstream education, but where the needs of the children are greater, special classes and indeed special schools are provided. Every effort must be made where special classes exist within a mainstream school to integrate the children and young people in this class with their peers in mainstream classes.
Over the last two to three years, my Department and the NCSE have introduced a number of strategic initiatives to plan for and provide sufficient special class and special school places.
These initiatives are bearing fruit with over 600 new special classes sanctioned at primary level, almost 300 new special classes sanctioned at post-primary level and five new special schools established over the last three years.
The NCSE have sanctioned 20 new special classes at primary level and 9 new special classes at post-primary level over the last 3 years in County Kildare.
My Department is engaging intensely with the NCSE in relation to the forward planning of new special classes for the next school year 2023/2024. This work involves a detailed review of statistical data in relation to forecasting demand for special class places, consideration of improved data sharing arrangements and a particular focus on the provision of special classes at post-primary level.
At local level, the NCSE is continuing to engage with schools regarding the establishment of additional special classes for the next school year 2023/2024. Every support will be made available to schools to progress the opening of special classes in the shortest possible timeframe.
It is of course open to any school to engage with the NCSE to establish a special class.
I want to reassure you also that my Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an appropriate education.
Information on the list of schools with special classes, the types and locations of these classes is published on the NCSE website and is available at www.ncse.ie
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