NORMA Foley, the education minister, will this week introduce emergency legislation to speed up the process of compelling schools to provide places for children with special educational needs, The Echo understands.
Legislation developed by Ms Foley and Josepha Madigan, the junior minister for special education, is to be fast-tracked through Cabinet this week, according to sources, and a possible Friday sitting of the Dáil may be necessary for the legislation to pass.
It is understood the legislation will update section 37A of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018, under which the minister can serve notice on a school ordering that they make additional provisions for children with special educational needs.
At the moment, this process can take up to 18 months, with detailed processes stipulated under the current legislation for the minister and the National Council for Special Education.
A report published last week by the Ombudsman for Children found that the department was failing pupils with special needs who do not have school places, with the system plagued by “provision black spots” in Dublin and Cork.
Some 15,500 children have to travel outside their local school catchment area to access a school place.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central and party spokesperson on special education Pádraig O’Sullivan said he would welcome such a development.
“I would welcome this development, obviously, especially given that I have been calling on Minister Foley to do this for the best part of two years,” he told The Echo.
“I genuinely think streamlining the process will make it more efficient when we’re trying to find suitable education places for children who have additional needs. It is simply wrong that we, as a State, are failing children and their families on a consistent basis and we must do better for them.”
The Department of Education was contacted for comment.