May 18, 2022, Independent: Move to force schools to provide special education places should have come sooner, expert says https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/move-to-force-schools-to-provide-special-education-places-should-have-come-sooner-expert-says-41662318.html
A special education expert said there is “not a hope” that special educational needs (SEN) places can be provided to all the children who need them by September.
That's despite an announcement by the Special Education Minister Josepha Madigan, who yesterday said she will use emergency powers to tackle the demand for SEN services.
Ms Madigan said she will issue Section 37a notices to schools in areas which “desperately require” additional SEN school places across the country.
A section 37a notice is a binding direction from the minister to schools to establish additional classes for children with special needs.
“This new policy direction is a necessary step to try and ensure that every child gets the supports they need and access to a school placement,” Ms Madigan said. “These provisions have already been used twice in Dublin which were successful and I feel now is the right time to use them again….
“We have made significant progress in increasing the number of Special Educational Needs places. By September we will have increased the number of Special classes by 473pc from 548 in 2011 to 2,405 for 22/23 with 287 new special classes in 2022.
“We now have 19,169 SNAs, an increase of 81pc since 2011. We have increased the number of SEN teachers by 48pc since 2011 to 14,385. But I know for parents who cannot find a place for their child, those statistics mean nothing to them which is why I've made this decisive decision.”
However, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Graham Manning, who is an autism class coordinator based in Cork, said the notice should have been issued earlier in the year to ensure enough places were secured ahead of the new school term.
He said Minister Madigan’s announcement is very welcome but establishing an SEN place in a mainstream school can be a long process….
“Cork and Dublin would be real pinch points but there are other areas as well. I’m not ruling out issuing those letters to any particular schools, in any particular county,” she said.
Minister Madigan argued that the “majority” of special classes are opened through “collaboration” and she said described section 37a as a “blunt instrument” which she “doesn’t like” using.
However, she added that it is now necessary because of the lack of availability nationwide. “If it is the case that there isn’t sufficient capacity then I have not option,” she said.
“I’m in the process of reviewing the section 37a mechanism because it does take a number of steps before a school actually opens the classes.”
Special Education Minister Josepha Madigan. Photo: Julien Behal