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(Ireland) "1,800 extra places in 312 special ed classes are needed this year"

June 23, 2022, RTE: Lack of school places for children with special needs raised in Dáil
Sinn Féin and Labour have said there are more than 100 children with special needs who still do not have a school place in September.
The Dáil heard Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty say that this happens every year and is the result of the Government failing to plan.

He urged the Government to pass emergency legislation to ensure every child has a school place for the new term.

Responding, the Tánaiste said there are more children with special needs in school than ever before.

However, Leo Varadkar conceded that this is cold comfort to any family whose child does not yet have a school place.

He said 1,800 extra places in 312 special education classes are needed this year and that has exceeded the Department of Education's projections.

While acknowledging Sinn Féin's offer to cooperate in passing emergency legislation, he said it should be possible to find extra places without new laws.

But he added that the Department of Education is consulting with the Attorney General to examine if such legislation might be necessary.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Minister for Education Norma Foley said that while progress is being made in the provision of special education she acknowledges that it is "not enough progress".

She said: "We have acknowledged that the Section 37 A process needs to be refined and we're working with the Attorney General's office to streamline that process.

"A number of schools have been identified where we believe that there is capacity for the provision of classes, and we will work with all schools."…
"25% of the entire budget of the Department of Education, €2.5 billion is now expended on special education and rightly so," she said.
"The special education teachers now number more than 14,000, 19,000 Special Needs Assistants and 315 special classes will open this year, the 2022-23 school year, providing for 1,800 students.

"But notwithstanding that, we have to acknowledge that all our new school builds will all have automatic provision for children with additional needs."

In the Dáil, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said there could be up to 270 children without a secondary school place in September.

Ms Bacik said the Government is failing children with special education needs, and in particular those with autism, when it comes to providing appropriate school places, close to where they live - something she said is causing "immense anguish."

She told the Dáil that it is estimated there are "nearly 270 children in Ireland without a school place for this coming September", with "many more" waiting for a diagnostic assessment to allow them qualify for a school place.

Ms Bacik said it is "simply not good enough" to hear processes are now being invoked so late in the school year, when so many children and parents still lack any clarity or certainty as to whether they can attend school in September.

Mr Varadkar said the Government accepted the criticism contained in the report.

He told the Dáil the Government acknowledges that some children do not know whether they have a school place until "very late in the day".

"I accept that it is not acceptable and it is something that we're working on," he said.

However, he added that the Ombudsman report acknowledges some of the changes which have been made by the government over the past two years, particularly in relation to future planning.

"I think in future years that we won't face the problems that we have been facing in the last couple of years," Mr Varadkar said.

The Labour leader said the Government's actions have been "too little too late" for those parents and children who are unclear whether they have a school place, let alone an appropriate one.

Public pay talks

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste has said that he believes that the "space is there" to reach a pay agreement with public sector unions.

Mr Varadkar said there are three elements to the discussions; how much workers are paid, how much they get to take home after tax and how far that money goes.

His comments were in response to People Before Profit's Paul Murphy, who criticised the restoration of pay for the highest paid public sector workers, telling the Dáil that it came at a time when low and middle-income public sector workers were given an "insulting pay offer".

Mr Murphy also referenced the most recent ESRI study, which warns that Irish households are facing the biggest drop in living standards since the financial crisis.

However, the Tánaiste accused Mr Murphy of misrepresenting the facts.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that senior public servants were not receiving a pay increase, but rather a restoration of cuts implemented during austerity.

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