The Ombudsman for Children has said planning and resourcing of special education places needs to catch up with forecasting after a report by his office highlighted serious shortcomings around the country.
Dr Niall Muldoon said the Department of Education had improved its spending in the area of special education in recent years, yet gaps still remained — particularly when it came from the move from primary to second-level.
The report, entitled Plan for Places, is based on input from the Department of Education, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), parents, school principals, lawyers, academics and advocacy groups, as well as statutory and non-governmental organisations.
The Department of Education and the NCSE said in the report that they were committed to delivering a high-quality education system for all children and said that providing an appropriate school placement for every child with SEN in a timely and supported manner is a key priority.
It referred to the five-fold increase in the number of special classes in Ireland over the past decade and said elements of the National Development Plan (NDP) would help create more places, adding that special measures were being put in place in Cork and Dublin.
"The department is working actively with the NCSE and other key stakeholders including school patrons and management bodies to provide additional special classes and special school places for the 2022/23 school year so that the remaining gaps in provision from the current provision of circa 99% to the full 100% is achieved as quickly as possible," the Department of Education stated.
The department said its Geographic Information Management System includes “real-time” data on capacity across the school system.
But Dr Muldoon said one figure that was still not known was the number of children with a special educational need who are in the wrong placement, such as a child in special class but who needs to be in special school, or a child in a mainstream class but who needs a special class.
He said some parents may simply have taken what was offered rather than what was needed.
The report warns that the system will come under more pressure before the situation improves, and recommendations include that "as a matter of priority", a plan is put in place to ensure that there are sufficient school places in the short to medium term to meet the forecasted needs of children with SEN within their local communities.