‘Schools shouldn’t be forced into classes for special needs pupils’

Schools that are forced to enrol children with special needs might not be the best places for them, a special education expert has said.

The difficulties facing many children finding school places, particularly when they are moving to second level, was raised by Breda Corr at an Oireachtas education committee hearing last week during a discussion on Minister Richard Bruton’s School Admissions Bill.

As general secretary of the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education, she told TDs and senators there are pockets of the country where the provision of special classes in second-level schools was very poor.

“There are many primary schools setting up special classes but, when the children move on, there’s nowhere for them to go,” she said.

The Homeroom lobby group, which launched last week, is seeking an amendment to Mr Bruton’s bill, in order to remove the right of schools to refuse to set up special classes or units for children with autism.

The shortage of spaces is particularly acute at second level where schools have not been keeping pace with the growth in special classes in primary schools. Department of Education figures show there are 525 classes in primary schools for pupils with autism, but just 237 at second level.

Most of the 200 members that comprise the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education are special schools but one third are mainstream schools that provide special classes or units for children with autism or with other special educational needs.

The School Admissions Bill would allow the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to compel a school to admit a pupil with special needs who has been unable to obtain a place.

Ms Corr said the NCSE has been trying to address issues where children cannot get access to a school in their locality.

She cautioned against mainstream schools being forced to accept a child which could happen under the proposed new law.

“I would like to see more schools taking more children with special educational needs, we all know about the soft barriers [put up by some schools], but I think that time will come. It’s [about] the attitude of the boards and the attitudes of the staff.

“There has to be a willingness, the schools shouldn’t be forced to set up [classes]. The board should want to do it, that is more welcoming for the students,” said Ms Corr.

Other education bodies told the Oireachtas committee it is vital, where a school is designated by the NCSE to enrol a student, the appropriate teaching and care resources should be provided at the same time and not months or years later.

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