2. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Education and Skills the timeframe for the review of autism spectrum disorder, ASD, places available to children in both primary and post-primary schools in counties Carlow and Kilkenny, as promised on 1 February 2018. (Question 14557/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Deputy Kathleen Funchion: What is the timeframe for the review of ASD places available to children in primary and post-primary schools in my constituency, Carlow-Kilkenny? On the previous occasion on which he took questions, the Minister promised a review in the area and I want to know the progress made in respect of it.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which is of particular concern to parents throughout the country. As advised in my response on 1 February, special class provision across the country is expanding very rapidly and I am satisfied that, based on the advice of the NCSE, we are matching the needs as they emerge.
I have asked the NCSE to look at emerging needs in counties Carlow and Kilkenny and to make provision to match the emerging needs.
In response, the NCSE has advised my Department that there are sufficient special class placements for the 2018-2019 school year for the children known to it. Of course, it continues to plan for additional special class placements in order that there will be capacity to meet the needs of children who have yet to be identified as needing such a placement.
On specific provision, my Department has approved a grant to St. Lachtain’s in Freshford to construct a two-classroom ASD unit and to upgrade an existing classroom to facilitate the operation of a third ASD class. I understand that a further application for funding for associated works has recently been submitted and my officials are considering this application.
The NCSE has also sanctioned another primary class in St. John’s junior school in Kilkenny and accommodation issues are now under consideration. The NCSE will continue to engage with schools in the area with a view to ensuring there is sufficient special class provision in the coming school years.
The number of special classes in Carlow and Kilkenny increased from 11 in 2011 to 48 today, which is evidence of very rapid expansion of provision.
Deputy Kathleen Funchion: I accept that there has been an increase. When I contacted the Minister regarding one or two specific cases, those places were resolved, which was very welcome for the families involved. Knowing exactly where their children will go to school in September takes the pressure off. They have a place either in a special school or in an ASD unit. However, all the schools with ASD units maintain that they have waiting lists. I am surprised that the NCSE claims that there are adequate places in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency. If there were adequate places, surely there would be no waiting lists. While I have raised one or two specific cases with the Minister and they have been resolved, I am aware of other instances where people are awaiting places in ASD units in September and have still not got them. I think there is a breakdown in communications somewhere. It is not possible to have adequate places and still have children on waiting lists. I would like to tease that out more and to get a more detailed response from the NCSE.
Deputy Richard Bruton: I will certainly get a response for the Deputy. Over 60% of children with ASD go into mainstream classes, approximately 20% go into ADS units and a further 20% go to special schools. The decision on whether a child’s needs would be best met in a mainstream class or a special class is made on a case-by-case basis. The indication when additional ASD units are needed is when the NCSE identifies that there is likely to be a stream of children whose needs will not be met by mainstream classes. Mainstream classes have the support of both resource teaching and SNAs to allow it to occur.
Different issues may give rise to waiting lists such as, for example, multiple applications to individual schools in cases where parents consider a number of schools. The NCSE obviously goes through the assessments of needs and the capacity of schools each year. It is satisfied at this point. I understand that it is hard for a parent to navigate the process because it is only after a child has been assessed that the direction that would best suit him or her can be identified. I will seek additional explanation of how the process works for the Deputy.
Deputy Kathleen Funchion: I welcome that and I would appreciate getting a more detailed response from the NCSE. One of the schools the Minister mentioned, St. Lachtain’s in Freshford, is the only school that provides an ASD preschool. The additional funding it sought was to add an additional room to its preschool. I know the Minister said it, but I missed it. Will that be done by September of this year or is it still in progress?
Deputy Richard Bruton: The reply states that the Department has approved a grant to St. Lachtain’s in Freshford to construct a two-classroom ASD unit and to upgrade an existing classroom to facilitate the operation of a third ASD class. As of today, we seem to have two ASD classes in St. Lachtain’s. It anticipates that five places will be available in the 2018-2019 enrolments. Obviously, there are places in different units across the two counties. There are about 20 schools with facilities of different scales. There are even more; the list goes on to the next page. There is expansion taking place. I do not know if that is expected to be available by September, but I doubt it.