Families of pupils with autism attending autism units at mainstream primary schools have reported increasing difficulties securing places in secondary schools in recent years, as there is no obligation on schools to set up such classes.
In its report on Mr Bruton’s School Admissions Bill, the Oireachtas Education Committee recommends the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) be allowed to intervene.
“Children are being turned away from certain schools due to the lack of facilities to accommodate such children. It is imperative that the NCSE be given the statutory power to require schools to establish an autism or special needs’ class where they identify the need of any such child,” said the report.
Committee chairperson Fiona Loughlin, a Fianna Fáil TD, said the problem is particularly acute when it comes to children moving from primary to second-level.
“I know of 12 children in one school that has a special unit and they will be transitioning next year. But none of them have a second-level place, except for one who got a place by taking an appeal
“So it is very pertinent that the minister take a position on this,” she said.
The committee’s report said it is also imperative that an end is brought to the so-called baptism barrier which means some non-Catholic parents cannot get their children into local primary schools.
“It is imperative that the relevant legislation is, at the very least, amended so that no child is denied admission to a State-funded school on the basis of their religion or beliefs,” it states.
Ms O’Loughlin said the committee has not suggested how this might be done, leaving it instead to the minister and his officials to bring appropriate amendments when the bill is back before the committee at the next legislative stage next week.
However, she said, the cross-party committee will find a consensus position on how to do so if that does not happen.
The committee was told by a group representing Catholic primary schools that its surveys show baptism certificates are an issue only in a small number of cases where children are refused enrolment. But Equate, a group lobbying on this issue, has welcomed the committee’s recommendation and said children’s rights need to be prioritised over all other interests on the subject.