Although we are now operating in a time of severe economic difficulty, I want to assure you that both myself and my colleagues in government are committed to prioritising funding for special educational needs (SEN) services. Approximately 15% of the entire budget of the Department of Education and Skills—some €1.3 billion—will be spent in support of children with special educational needs this year.
Despite our current financial challenges, SEN funding has not been reduced and the overall numbers of Special Needs Assistants and Resource Teachers in the school system has been maintained.
Such commitment has been crucial to the provision of inclusive education. This government will continue to prioritise special education provision to ensure that all children with SEN continue to receive an education appropriate to their needs.
One of the things which we can be proudest of in our education system over recent decades is the extent to which the education of children with special needs has been incorporated into the mainstream education system. The majority of children with special needs are now educated in their local mainstream schools, within their community, along with their friends and neighbours.
The advantages of this policy of inclusion are two-fold. Children with special educational needs benefit from being educated in their local schools, and their teachers and classmates have the opportunity to acquire a greater level of awareness and knowledge of diversity and different abilities. Ultimately this has a wider societal benefit.
Some students still require specialist interventions in a special school or class. The Department of Education & Skills (DES), in conjunction with the National Council for Special Education, makes provision for special classes and schools to cater for children who have particular significant needs. These classes have lower pupil teacher ratios, so that more individual attention can be given.
Special classes are established in mainstream schools, to provide for as much inclusion as possible. This school year, 91 new special classes opened, bringing the total number of special classes in mainstream schools across the country to 640-
DES also provides for a range of special schools for children with the most complex needs requiring specialist interventions. In this way, there are provisions available to cater for the full range of SEN.
We will continue with this policy of inclusive education, while also trying to improve special educational services, taking into account best international practices and research.
I wish to assure parents that whatever your child’s level of special need, there is a place for your child in our education system and supports which can be provided, and this will continue.