19 May 2022
This afternoon, Minister Madigan met with Department of Education officials from the Special Education section, the Building and Planning Unit and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council for Special Education to discuss measures to further increase the number of special school and special class places for children with special educational needs.
There has been extensive work and collaboration between the Department of Education and the NCSE to increase the provision of new school places for children with additional needs.
A number of measures were discussed during the meeting.
The Minister has asked the Chief Executive of the National Council for Special Education to identify schools that may have capacity to open a new special class that have not as yet engaged effectively with the NCSE, so that where necessary she can initiate the process of issuing Section 37a notices to schools.
Minister Madigan said: "As I mentioned during the week, as Minister of State for Special Education I must utilise all options available to me to ensure that we increase the number of special school and special class places for the children who need them. One child on a waiting list or without a school placement is one too many and I will be working closely with the department and the NCSE to provide solutions for children with special educational needs and their families."
The preferred solution is that schools proactively open special classes.
If the NCSE has not been able to secure the necessary placements in an area, it can activate a statutory provision contained in Section 37A of the Education Act 1998. Under this provision, and after a period of engagement, the Minister can direct a school to open a special class. These provisions have already been used twice in the Dublin area to good effect.
All parties prefer that schools volunteer to open a special class; where all reasonable efforts fail, the Minister has power under Section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to compel a school to provide additional places.
The legislation was used for the first time in 2019 in respect of the Dublin 15 area and was activated for a second time following a report by the NCSE which identified a shortage of special school and special class places across South Dublin.
The section 37A process is currently being reviewed within the overall context of the review of the EPSEN Act 2004 review to establish if the process can be better streamlined to ensure sufficient specialist places can be made available in an efficient manner.
Minister Madigan has made a clear commitment to use the Section 37a process in order to increase the number of places in schools for children who have special educational needs.