Government 'does not want to go backwards' on special needs education — Harris

Government 'does not want to go backwards' on special needs education — Harris

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris: 'It was absolutely essential that we do everything we can to boost the number of special classes.' File picture

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the Irish government was working with experts to address the issue of lack of spaces in schools for  children with additional needs.

Mr Harris, whose brother Adam Harris is the founder of the AsIAm charity for people with autism, said the reason he entered public life was because of lack of services for people with additional needs.

The creation of five special education centres was proposed as an emergency response to the shortage of appropriate school places for children with special educational needs this week.

The five centres initially proposed were for Dublin, taking in 24 children each, and would be run by the Education and Training Boards (ETB).

However, following public outcry and an emergency meeting with disability advocates on Thursday, Special Education Minister Josepha Madigan said the plan was still in its “infancy” and just one of a number of options being explored.

Mr Harris said the government did not want to go backwards regarding school places for people with additional needs.

This is an issue very close to my heart and it’s very important we have intensive engagement with people with lived experience.

“I’m delighted our colleague Minister Madigan did that yesterday. It was absolutely essential that we do everything we can to boost the number of special classes. 

Remember, these actually are children who have been assessed and assessed to attend mainstream school with special additional supports put in place and I welcome to that Minister Madigan is going to use the legal power she has to increase the number of classes.” 

Mr Harris said the way it was communicated to the public was less than ideal, which Ms Madigan acknowledged.

“Nobody wants to go backwards,” he added.

"We've made a lot of progress in the country in terms of education and we’re still on a journey.

“Next week, I’ll bring proposals to Cabinet about how we bring more people with additional needs into third-level.

“But what I would say is, different advocacy groups have a lot of expertise between the two, with Minister Madigan that engagement is happening. That’s really important.

“We find a lot of parents that are under massive stress, massive pressure. Minister Madigan has been working round the clock with schools to develop additional places but it's important we protect their constitutional rights and we have an ethical obligation to provide for their education.”

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