Responding to reports tonight that Minister for Special Education Josepha Madigan is expected to announce that five special educational needs (SEN) centres will be created in Dublin as an ‘interim’ solution, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh O Laoghaire said:
“It should never have got to a position that we are in late May and 80 children in Dublin do not have a school place.
“The government has the power to use S37A to ensure schools open special classes in areas where they are needed. This conversation between the National Council For Special Education (NCSE) and the Department of Education should have been happening last autumn.
“This is so far beyond the 11th hour, and this kind of rushed response is not what anyone would have wanted to see.
“It is incredible to me that the Minister for Education, the Minister for Special Education and the NCSE have access to all the data they need, as well as the powers and budget, yet did not use these.
“Parents are now desperate because of the lack of government planning. They are tired from having to fight for their child, and I know many will accept places in these centres because they feel they do not have any other choice. The government has put these parents in a shocking position.
“In truth, I am concerned, as very often what the Department deems a ‘short-term’ measure is often far from that. We only have to look at prefabs in schools around the state as testimony to that.
“Where their child needs a special class place, parents do not want them to be totally separated and segregated from other children – they want them to be part of the life of a school community, ideally a local school.
“It is devastating for these parents that the government’s lack of planning has stripped them of this option.
“There are so many questions and concerns that arise here. What is the timescale here to ensure these children get a place in a mainstream school? Will the Minister follow through on her commitment to using s37A?
“What kind of buildings are to be used? What teachers will staff them? Will they have adequate ancillary services and access to therapies?
“I am concerned about the precedent that this sets – we are meant to be moving forward on the basis of inclusion and integration, not segregation.
“The Minister talks about rolling this out across the state. Families across the state would much prefer if the government focused on using the powers available to them to open special classes, and ensure schools that do open classes are properly supported, funded and staffed.
“That way the government would be living up to its commitments to children with special educational needs – to have a place in a special class in a school, not a special education ‘centre’, segregated and isolated from the school community.”