Last night in Dáil Éireann I raised the failure by the Department of Education to provide secondary school places for 11 local children, and the broader issue of specific classes at primary school level.
Watch what I said here:
I had previously raised this specific issue in the Dáil 4 weeks ago with the Minister: https://youtu.be/6FUExmazgO4
Dáil Éireann debate – Tuesday, 14 Jun 2022
At present, just three primary schools and one secondary school are providing autism-specific classes in the wider Athlone area. This is grossly inefficient to meet the current needs and no new classes are planned for September, which is completely unacceptable. It needs to be urgently addressed.
Four weeks ago, I raised in the House with the Minister of State the lack of secondary school places for children with autism in Athlone and south Roscommon, which will force students to travel up to 100 km each day to avail of a second level education from September. I know of two children in south Roscommon who will travel up to 100 km a day as they will have to make the daily journey to Glenamaddy, County Galway to access a second level education in an autism-specific class. In fact, there will be 11 children leaving primary school in the catchment of Athlone and south Roscommon in the next fortnight who have no local autism-specific school place. These 11 children will travel up to 150,000 km over the next school year because of the failure to provide autism classes in local schools. So much for climate change and so much for helping families with the cost of living.
Four weeks ago, the Minister of State told me she was meeting with the NCSE the following day and that she was going to bring up the crisis situation in Athlone and south Roscommon. She told me that the NCSE had told her that it was confident it would meet the demands for special class places and special school places for this September in both Roscommon and Athlone, and that there was sufficient capacity for those children from September this year. Not one of the parents has been contacted or has heard anything from either the Department, the NCSE or the SENO in the past four weeks. Even those who have been forced to travel up to 100 km a day are not being given any information about transport, how it is envisaged that they are going to get to school each day or how they are going to be able to afford to pay for the petrol to travel these astronomical distances. These children should be entitled to an education in their own town along with their schoolmates and their brothers and sisters. I do not think it is too much to ask. I urge the Minister of State to intervene in this regard.
Furthermore, four weeks ago, she advised me that where schools were collaborating and there was a willingness to open the special classes, they should be given the space to do that. Despite that approach being taken, the Department and the NCSE are not supporting schools that are willing to alter special classes. St. Comán’s Wood Primary School in Roscommon town has been refused a special class for children with multiple and complex disabilities. This is despite having the numbers for such a class and despite the fact the application was supported by both the senior psychologist in the child disability network team and the local SENO. St. Comán’s Wood has an excellent reputation for giving children opportunities to taste success, irrespective of their circumstances. This has resulted in some children with special needs moving from neighbouring schools to St. Comán’s Wood. Many parents without any special needs also choose to send their children to the school because they want an inclusive education for their children that reflects the wider community.
We all know that resource hours and SNAs do not meet the needs of children with multiple disabilities.
Having part-time access to an SNA or resource hours does not work for them. They need constant support throughout the day where they are engaged with in activities that are relevant and meaningful to them.
I note there are 25 special classes in mainstream schools for children with multiple disabilities throughout the country. There are two in Clare, five in Cork, two in Donegal, four in Galway, eight in Kerry, one in Louth and three in Mayo. Not one has been sanctioned for County Roscommon. Despite the fact that the board of management has identified a need, supported the school in making the application and received the endorsement of both the HSE and the SENO, the Department of Education is not willing to support the establishment of this special class. I urge the Minister to reconsider this.