May 26, 2022, NI Belfast Telegraph: [Irish] Government ‘out of touch’ on special education policy, TD warns https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/republic-of-ireland/government-out-of-touch-on-special-education-policy-td-warns-41691906.html
The cost of living, special school places, and the World Economic Forum were raised during Leaders’ Questions on Thursday.
The Tanaiste has defended the Government’s commitment to special education amid concerns over plans to create special school centres as an “interim” measure.
The Fine Gael leader faced questions on Thursday over frustrations among parents and advocates about the difficulty in finding school and class places for children with additional needs.
In Dublin alone, there are 80 children waiting for a special class place.
Leo Varadkar acknowledged that “stop gap” was not appropriate language to use in relation to policy measures for children with special educational needs.
In response to a question in the Dail from Labour TD Duncan Smith, who raised the need for more special school places for the second day this week, Mr Varadkar said the Government’s policy is one of integration.
Mr Smith mentioned reports in the Irish Times of plans to create emergency special school centres, subsequently confirmed by Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
“This is no way to make major public announcements, specifically on areas so sensitive and so important,” Mr Smith said.
“This still seems like one of the most brainless, out-of-touch policy responses to a real crisis that has existed in our country for many years.
Mr Varadkar said: “Our policy is one of integration. If we’re going to have an integrated society, we’re going to have to start with integrated schools.
“As much as possible, children with special needs or additional needs should be integrated in mainstream schools or mainstream classes.”
Last year, there were an additional 300 special needs places made available in mainstream schools, Mr Varadkar said.
“Last night I attended a meeting with people from my constituency from the Dublin 15 area,” he continued. “And we were able to confirm last night 22 additional places in special classes in four schools in Dublin 15. We were short 17 places, and we were able to find an extra 22.”
Ms Madigan was also at the meeting, Mr Varadkar said, and was able to achieve “co-operation from the schools” in securing the additional places.
He said the budget for special education is two billion euro [$2.2B], meaning for every four euro spent in schools one goes to special education….
In a statement released ahead of the meeting, Ms Madigan said she is committed to using the Section 37a process which requires mainstream schools to establish new special classes.
Mr Varadkar, speaking to reporters in Dublin city centre on Thursday afternoon, defended his Government’s record on special education.
“I don’t think any government has been more committed to special education than this Government,” he said.
“It’s very much the policy of Government to mainstream and integrate kids with special educational needs and make sure that they get the education they’re entitled to in their local school, in their community and that’s what we’re absolutely committed to,” he said.
“Sometimes we can run into problems and home tuition has to be offered as an option or, in some cases, a special school is the right option for children with very profound needs.
“But for the vast majority of children, what we’re providing them with is mainstream classes in mainstream schools….
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar was asked about provision for children with special educational needs (Damien Storan/PA)