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(Ireland) Exploding demand for autism places; 'hundreds, perhaps more' without a place

Dec 23, 2021, Irish Examiner: Hundreds of school places could be made available to autistic students 'if law enacted'

Hundreds of autistic students could be provided with appropriate school places "by September" if the Minister for Education, and the Minister of State for Special Education, used the full legislative powers available to them. That’s according to Graham Manning, an ASD class coordinator in Cork, who told the Irish Examiner the demand for classes exceeds the number of available places each year. This year, he is already seeing “dozens of applications for single-digit places." “We have the exact same thing every year. We hear about new schools opening up [ASD classes] but they no way keep pace with demand by any stretch of the imagination.” On top of this, year on year, the gap between the number of special classes at primary, and autism classes at secondary, is growing, he added. According to Mr Manning, there are children in Cork applying for places in schools more than 50 km away from their homes, meaning they would commute 100 km daily, past schools in their local area. “There are also hundreds of students, perhaps more, who have a recommendation of needing a special class place but they are in mainstream schools because they couldn’t get a place in an autism class.” Legislative power The Minister for Education, and Minister of State for Special Education, have the legislative power to address the lack of places “by September” through Section 37A of the Education Act, he added. This gives the ministers the power to direct a school to open a special class where all reasonable efforts have failed. Mr Manning said: “The legislation is in place, it’s been in place for three years. They refuse to use it.” To date, the legislation has been used just twice for primary schools in South Dublin. “These places were very much needed, but the rest of Dublin exists, the rest of the country exists and the need is far more acute at secondary.” Students have it "in writing" that they are entitled to a place in a special or autism class, he said, and this is not being provided by the ministers. "We are talking about hundreds of students who are inappropriately placed, that if a special class was set up they’d have an appropriate place.” Department's response A spokesman for the Department of Education said Section 37A is not “the standard way" that new special classes are created. “Instead, the vast majority of new special classes result from proactive collaboration between the NCSE and local schools.” This year, 269 new classes were opened through this, he added. … Cork currently has 227 primary schools and 81 post-primary schools that have autism classes. This year, 44 new special classes were established in Cork, and an additional 42 new special school places were created by the establishment of the new Carrigaline Community Special School and the expansion of St Mary’s Special School in Rochestown. …

The Minister for Education Norma Foley, above, and Minister of State for Special Education have the legislative power to direct a school to open a special class where all reasonable efforts have failed.


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