17 April 2021
By Elaine Murphy
The new special school will operate in an existing Gaelscoil school building in Carrigaline which will become vacant in September with the development of the new school campus on the Ballinrea Road.
Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD have announced a significant expansion of special school provision in Cork through the establishment of a new special school and increased capacity in an existing special school to meet the needs of children in the Cork area.
The new provision will see the establishment of a new special school in Carrigaline which will have the capacity to provide 48 school places. It will provide for the needs of children with autism and general learning disability up to eighteen years of age.
The provision will also provide for a change to the designation of St. Mary’s Special School, Rochestown to cater for children with a dual diagnosis of learning disability and autism with 12 new school places becoming available for September 2021.
Priority will now be given to those children who currently do not have an offer of a school place for next September.
Special educational needs organisers (SENOs) will work closely with the families of the children concerned immediately to assist them in accessing the new places now coming on stream.
The Department, together with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), has been working with parents, schools, patron bodies and other stakeholders in Cork to address the current shortage of specialist school placements in the Cork area. The Department will continue discussions with patron bodies in order to identify a patron for the new special school in Carrigaline, and an announcement will be made in this regard shortly.
There is intensive work underway at present to ensure the additional places are established as early as possible for the 2021/22 school year.
The provision of 60 additional special school placements is to cater for the immediate requirements. The Department and the NCSE continue to work towards the development of additional placements in the Cork area to meet ongoing and future demand.
Minister Foley said:
“I want to thank all of the parents, schools, patron bodies and other stakeholders in Cork for their ongoing engagement with the Department and with the NCSE. I know that this has been a difficult period for many students and their families in Cork who have been unable to secure a suitable placement, and I am pleased that there has been progress made in addressing this.
“In particular, I want to thank both the Brothers of Charity, the principal and the Board of Management of St. Mary’s Special School for their willingness to engage on expansion of their school designation. Discussions will continue with the Department of Education and patrons to finalise a potential patron body for the new special school in the coming days.
“I know that the new places announced today will be a welcome relief to the families who do not have a school place for next September.
“I am delighted to announce this significant expansion and while I am conscious of the short timeframe for the delivery of these places, I am sure that through the good efforts of all, these timeframes can be met.”
Minister Madigan said:
“I am delighted to have secured agreement for both the expansion of St. Mary’s and the opening of a new special school in Carrigaline for the benefit of students and families with additional needs in Cork.
“This is a much-needed development which will help to meet the demand for special school places in the area.
“There is a shortage of special school places in the Cork area this year. Many students who should have a special school place are unable to secure one. Meeting this shortfall has been a priority for me and everyone in the Department. We have heard the voices of parents and families about how this has impacted on their lives and the lives of their families. Today’s announcement will increase the number of places available for students in the area and allow students to receive a full education appropriate to their needs. We are committed to ensuring that every child has an appropriate school place.
“I too want to thank everyone involved in this endeavour, in particular the Brothers of Charity, the principal and the Board of Management of St. Mary’s Special School. However, I also want to be clear that this work continues to ensure that we meet the ongoing demand for special education placements. As Minister of State for Special Education, I am determined to support students and families in securing school places where they are needed. I know this can be a difficult process and I want to make it as easy as possible.”
Department policy is that students with special educational needs should be included where possible and appropriate in mainstream placements with additional supports provided. In circumstances where children with special educational needs require more specialised interventions, special school or special class places are provided for.
The Department of Education continues to prioritise investment in supports for pupils with special educational needs. Last October, a range of new investments in the area of special education were provided for as part of the Budget 2021 measures.
The State, this year, will spend over €2 billion, or over 20% of its total educational budget, on providing additional supports for children with special educational needs.
This represents an increase of over 50%, in total expenditure, since 2011.
Budget 2021 provides for vital additional teachers and school staff in the area of special educational needs including over 400 extra special education teaching posts and almost 1,000 additional special needs assistants.
It also provides funding for important reforms in the area of special education, such as the further roll-out of the School Inclusion Model.
In terms of staff resources for special educational needs, the provision for 2021 delivers for mainstream classes, special classes, and special schools.
There are currently 125 special schools providing specialist education for approximately 8,000 pupils annually with over 1,400 teachers.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for determining the appropriate staffing levels in relation to the support of pupils with special educational needs in special schools, in accordance with the policies of the Department.
Enhanced pupil teacher and SNA ratios are provided to special schools to support them in dealing with pupils’ educational and care needs.
Since 2012, special schools are provided with teaching staff on the basis of individual pupil profiles and disability categories of those pupils, as opposed to being based principally on school designation, in accordance with Department Circular 0042/2011. Special school staffing allocations are reviewed and updated each year by the NCSE and schools are staffed on the basis of each year’s current school enrolments.
Budget 2020 and Budget 2021 have provided for additional teaching posts for special schools in each year, designed to meet expected increases in enrolments. It also provides for the continued provision of administrative deputy principal posts in special schools with 15+ teaching posts, introduced in special schools for the first time from September 2019.
Special education placements – Cork
The NCSE has been working with stakeholders in the Cork area for a number of years and service provision has expanded year on year as a result of this. There is a continuous cycle of placement planning involving parents, professionals working with the families, schools and their patrons.
Special School Places
There has been a growing demand for special school placements in Cork in recent years. Despite very positive engagement with special schools in the area, it has not proved possible to increase the number of special school places available to students as schools have been operating at capacity. There is a need, at a current date, for an additional 44 special school places for students with autism and general learning disabilities in Cork.
The shortfall in provision was despite very significant investment of time and effort involving schools, patrons and the NCSE.
The availability of suitable accommodation in the immediate area was identified as a key challenge to bringing additional places on stream quickly. Two options were identified in this regard, the expansion of St. Mary’s Special School, Rochestown and the availability of a school building in Carrigaline from September, 2021.