Autistic students see classes cut

Autistic students see classes cut
EEXXjob 12.12.2016Echo Exam NewsGraham Manning, ASD programme coordinator in Cork, speaking at the launch of Homeroom campaigning for ASD friendly secondary schools, at the Gresham Metropole Hotel, Cork.Picture: David Keane.

CORK students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are facing a chronic shortage of special needs classes, according to an ASD programme coordinator.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) needs to be given the authority to demand schools to set up ASD special classes, according to Graham Manning, who runs an ASD programme in a Cork City secondary school.

"Demand is exceeding the current amount of classes," he said. 

"The situation is getting worse and it will keep getting worse because diagnoses keep increasing." 

Currently, secondary schools can refuse to accept a student with ASD despite repeated requests from desperate parents, teachers and other special needs organisers.

This has lead to a chronic shortage of places for students with ASD, Mr Manning said.

There are 15 ASD-specific classes in mainstream secondary schools in Cork City with two currently in the process of being wound down.

This year, just one boy was offered a place in an ASD special class in a mainstream secondary school in the city, he added.

The problem is not just confined to the city, Mr Manning said adding that it is a country-wide issue. 

Special needs classes are set up in mainstream secondary schools 'subject to the willingness of schools', Mr Manning said, adding that schools often choose not to for various reasons.

Some schools may choose not to set up a special class due to fears such a class would affect overall grades or other classes, concerns over the running costs or out of fear teachers are unqualified to teach such a class, Mr Manning said. 

But there are only two acceptable reasons for a school refusing to set up a special class - a lack of demand and the existence of proportionately high amount of classes already in the area, which are both highly unlikely, he added.

Mr Manning is calling on the Government to support an amendment to the Schools Admission Bill currently before the Oireachtas.

The amendment would give the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) the authority to instruct schools to set up special classes where there is a need, according to Mr Manning.

This amendment would end the “circular governing” of the establishment of special classes, he added.

This is an authority the NCSE has requested, Mr Manning said, adding that every political party except Fine Gael says it supports this amendment.

Mr Manning spent his Easter holidays meeting with various spokespeople for education in an effort to gain support for the amendment, originally proposed by Senator Colette Kelleher.

However, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has refused to meet to discuss the amendment, Mr Manning said.

He is now calling on all party members to state publicly that they will not support the Schools Admission Bill unless the amendment giving the NCSE the authority to instruct schools to set up special classes is included in it.

At the end of the month, Mr Manning will meet the Department of Education head of special education Jim Mulkerrins to openly discuss the issue.

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