The education minister has told six schools to provide more critically-needed special education places. With many schools due to return next week, hundreds of pupils across the country have yet to be given a place — with the problem particularly acute in Dublin and Cork.
Minister Joe McHugh has issued statutory notices to six schools in Dublin 15 setting out the need to make more places available for children with special educational needs. This is the second statutory notice that has been sent to schools in the area after shortages were identified by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) as far back as April.
Campaigners have pointed to a lack of resources in schools, lack of training of teachers and other supports. Linda Comerford, spokeswoman for Enough is Enough – Every Voice Counts campaign which held protests to demand equal access to education earlier this year, said:
Every county is affected, there are children in every single county who will not be attending schools this September because they do not have an appropriate school place to attend
Department of Education figures showed that 872 children with a Special Education need were given a home tuition grant in 2017/18 as there was no school place for them.
Ms Comerford said the right to education is enshrined in the Constitution but forcing a school to enrol a child is not always the right decision: “Compelling a school is not always the best way to go, if your employer was compelled to employ you, would you want to work somewhere where you know you are not wanted? Parents don’t want their children in an environment where their child is not wanted.”
The statutory notices follow a number of direct appeals and actions taken by the Department of Education. Earlier this month, technical teams visited schools in Dublin to carry out first-hand assessments of the accommodation and consider its suitability for additional special classes.
Mr McHugh said: “I am deeply conscious of the stress and anxiety facing parents and their children as we work to secure more places. It is a priority issue for the Department.”
He said he would prefer to see children welcomed into a school without the need for legal compulsion.
However, he added: “The Education Act provides for a very transparent series of steps which can ultimately lead to the issuing of a direction to a board of management requiring it to make additional places available. The issue of the notices to the six schools is another step in that process.”