For Oral Answer on : 23/03/2023
Question Number(s): 70 Question Reference(s): 14155/23
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Education the progress made by her Department in establishing a special school in the east Cork area; her further plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
I would like to thank the Deputy for the question and would like to advise that my Department is committed, in conjunction with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), to continue to work with parents, schools, patrons and all stakeholders to ensure that there are sufficient appropriate places for students with additional needs and to support all students to achieve their potential.
Over the last two to three years, my Department and the NCSE have introduced a number of strategic initiatives to plan for and provide sufficient special class and special school places.
These initiatives are bearing fruit with over 600 new special classes sanctioned at primary level and almost 300 new special classes sanctioned at post-primary level. Specifically in County Cork, the NCSE has sanctioned 103 new special classes at primary level and 46 new special classes at post-primary level over the last 3 years.
In addition, 3 new special schools have been opened in recent years and 2 further special schools are due to be opened during this school year.
2 of these special schools are in the Cork region. Carrigaline Community Special School opened in 2021 and Rochestown Community Special School is due to open later in the current school year.
There are currently 14 special schools in County Cork with a provisional enrolment of 952 children in September 2022. This number will rise to 15 when the new Rochestown Community Special School opens later this year and will enrol 25 children to begin with. It is envisaged that this new special school will grow to accommodate over 60 students over the next few years.
My Department is engaging intensely with the NCSE in relation to the forward planning of new special classes and additional special school places for the next school year 2023/2024.
This work involves a detailed review of statistical data to forecast demand for special class and special school places, consideration of improved data sharing arrangements, consideration of available school accommodation, and a particular focus on the provision of special classes at post-primary level.
At local level, the NCSE is continuing to engage with schools regarding the establishment of additional special classes in both mainstream and special schools for the next school year 2023/2024. Every support will be made available to schools to progress the opening of special classes in the shortest possible timeframe.
The majority of special schools run their admission processes in March and April, and it is only after these admission processes are complete that it becomes clear whether or not every child seeking a special school placement has received an offer of a placement.
My Department and the NCSE are aware that a number of children attending special schools have to travel significant distances to school each day and this is also a very important consideration when any decision is made to open a new special school.
My Department is committed, in conjunction with the NCSE, to continue to work with parents, schools, patrons and all stakeholders to ensure that there are sufficient appropriate places for students with additional needs and to support all students to achieve their potential.
I want to reassure you also that my Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an appropriate education.