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(Ireland) Co Laois: 'Chronic' shortage of school places for ASD students despite $2.8B in funds

Jan 23, 2024, Ireland Live: Laois 'parents' worried at 'chronic' shortage of vital school places

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) unit shortage highlighted in Dáil by Laois TD

E. central Ireland

Laois Parents of children with autism are worried at the 'chronic' shortage of spaces in the county's secondary schools, according to Laois TD Brian Stanley who called on the Government to take action.

The Sinn Féin representative flagged problems facing schools and parents due to the shortage in the Dáil with Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Neale Richmond.

Dep Stanley said the Minister knows that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) units are very important and it is important children have access to them. But he said the needs of Laois families and schools are not being met.

"We have a chronic shortage of ASD units at second level in all of Co Laois. Good work has been done in existing ASD units at primary level and in some second level colleges in the country where they exist. However, we need expansion of it because of the enrolment.

"We have had a rapid population increase in the county. An increasing number of children will be coming on stream and going into secondary schools. I have been contacted by parents of children who are moving from primary school to secondary school in September and who cannot get a place in the ASD unit. The children are coming out of ASD units….

"Portlaoise College needs four extra ASD classes. I spoke to the staff there just yesterday about it. St. Mary's CBS Portlaoise needs two extra classes. Coláiste Íosagáin in Portarlington needs two. I understand that it does have the spaces.

"Coláiste Dhún Másc in Portlaoise needs two extra ASD classes. Heywood Community School in Ballinakill needs two extra ASD classes," he said.

He said children are on waiting lists….

The TD said he and parents accept that some of the buildings will be modular, some will be rapid builds, and some will be standard construction. He argued time is of the essence.

"This cannot be postponed. We have to make headway with it. We have to make sure these children make the transition successfully out of primary school from sixth class into first year.

We need to keep them within the education system and build for them a successful future,’’ he said.

Minister of State Richmond thanked the Laois Offaly TD for raising this issue and laying out very considerably what he described as "an extremely delicate matter" for students, families, teachers and the wider school community.

He said that in 2023, the Department of Education spent in excess of €2.6 billion [$2.8B], or over 27% of the Department’s budget, on providing additional teaching and care supports for children with special educational needs, and further progress will be made this year as an additional €113 million [$123M] will be dedicated to providing supports for children with special educational needs.

He said this will allow the Department to further the number of teaching and SNA posts in our schools with an additional 744 teachers and 1,216 SNAs added to deliver up to 2,700 new places for children with special educational needs. he said this would mean over 41,500 qualified people schools focused exclusively on supporting children with special educational needs.

Minister Richmond said National Council For Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for co-ordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide.

He said that along with the two new special schools, 389 new special classes, that is, 253 at primary and 136 at post-primary level, have been sanctioned by the NCSE for opening this school year.

"Of these, eight are in Laois - four at primary level and four at post-primary - bringing the total number of special classes in Co Laois to 60, that is, 44 at primary level and 16 at post-primary level….


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