Parents forced to ‘go to war’ for special needs school places, committee hears

Parents forced to ‘go to war’ for special needs school places, committee hears

(Oireachtas TV/PA)

Parents of children with special needs have to “go to war” to access a school place for their children, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he was “horrified” to learn what families had to go through to secure places and that some who had contacted him were “in tears” over the matter.

He told the Education Committee a fundamental shift in the system was needed.

“The process seems to be that the special needs organiser hands the parents a list of schools and says best of luck,” the Labour education spokesman said.

“I know of parents who have gone to 15 or 16 schools to try to access a place.

“So not only are you dealing with a challenging situation of dealing with a diagnosis, you almost have to go to war with the system in order to access a school place.

“There seems to be no absolute right for a school place.”

Mr O Ríordáin asked representatives from the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education, who were appearing before the committee on Tuesday, how they could stand over such a system.

Mary McGrath, head of operations at the National Council for Special Education, admitted that were “pinch points” where some parents find it difficult gaining a place for their child.

Mary McGrath of the National Council for Special Education at the Education Committee on Tuesday (Oireachtas TV/PA)

But she told TDs and senators that special educational needs organisers (SENOs) advise parents about schools where they are aware there are placements available for the forthcoming school year.

“The SENOs are engaging with schools on a continuous cycle and planning additional special classes and placements and those places are confirmed at different points of time in the year,” she said.

“SENOs are updating parents who are seeking special school and special class places as those new placements become available.

“We do at certain points in time experience pinch points in various parts of the country and we have to date triggered the legislation which commenced in 2018, twice in Dublin, where schools who did have some space were not responding to requests from SENOs to open special classes.”

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