124. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Skills the schools in County Dublin which have an ASD unit; the number of children attending each; the number of pupils awaiting access to an ASD unit in those and other schools, respectively; and his plans to address the shortfalls in available places for children with needs that can be catered for by an ASD unit. (Question 18560/18 asked on 01 May 2018)

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Richard Bruton): It is the policy of my Department that all children with Special Educational Needs, including those with Autism, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in school settings through the primary and post primary school network.

Such placements facilitate access to individualised education programmes which may draw from a range of appropriate educational interventions, delivered by fully qualified professional teachers, with the support of Special Needs Assistants and the appropriate school curriculum.

The greater proportion of children with Autism attend mainstream classes, but some require the environment of a special class or special school. This decision is based on a recommendation contained within a professional assessment in consultation with the NCSE.

Students enrolling in specialised placements must have a report from a relevant professional or team of professionals stating that:

- S/he has a disability (in line with the designation of the special placement in question) and

- S/he has significant learning needs that require the support of a specialised setting and the reasons why this is the case.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for organising and planning provision for children with Special Educational Needs, including the establishment of special classes in mainstream primary and post primary schools.

Since 2011, the NCSE has increased the number of special classes from 548 in 2011 to 1,304 for the 2017/18 school year. 1,048 of these are ASD special classes.

125 special schools also provide specialist education for those students with complex special educational needs, including students diagnosed with ASD.

This reflects the priority which the Government has put on helping children with Special Educational Needs to achieve their potential.

With regard to Co. Dublin in particular, there are 37 special schools and 218 special classes attached to mainstream schools. Of these, 18 are ASD early intervention classes, 124 are primary ASD classes and 36 are post primary ASD classes. The number of ASD special classes in Co. Dublin have increased from 66 in 2011/2012 to 178 in 2017/2018.

The NCSE is aware of emerging need in Dublin from year to year, and where special provision, including special class provision, is required, it is planned and established to meet that need. This process is ongoing.

The NCSE has informed my Department that they intend to establish approx. 18 new ASD Special Classes in Co. Dublin for 2018/19 school year to meet currently identified need.

ASD special classes are resourced to cater for six pupils with complex educational needs arising from their diagnosis of autism and as such are staffed with a reduced PTR (6:1 Primary and 6:1.5 Post Primary) and two Special Needs Assistants. Details of all special classes for children with special educational needs are available on www.ncse.ie in county order.

The enrolment of a child to a school is a matter, in the first instance, for the parents of the child and the Board of Management of a school. My Department has no role in relation to processing applications for enrolment to schools and it does not maintain details of waiting lists in schools.

Where parents have been unsuccessful in enrolling their child in a school placement, for the 2018/19 school year, they should update their local SENO to inform the planning process. Contact details are available on www.ncse.ie.

In the case of all new schools, it is general practice to include a Special Needs Unit (SNU) in the accommodation brief for new school buildings, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required.

The NCSE will continue to work with schools, parents, NEPS, health professionals and other staff who are involved in the provision of services in the area referred to by the Deputy for children with special educational needs, to ensure that each child has a placement appropriate to their needs for the 2018/19 school year.

The Deputy may be aware that during the Committee Stage debate of the School Admissions Bill, I outlined my intention to include a provision that will provide, based on reports and advice from the NCSE, a power for the Minister to require a school to open a special class or increase the number of special classes in schools identified by the NCSE. My Department officials are currently engaging with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on the development of legislative proposals on this matter which they hope to bring forward to Government for approval.