No school place for little Sophia

By Mary Dennehy

SEVEN-year-old Sophia from Tallaght is one of a number of local children who will not be starting primary school this September due to a lack of places for kids with special educational needs.

Sophia has been on the waiting lists of five schools with an ASD class for the last three to four years.

Annmarie and Sophia 1

Seven-year-old Sophia with her mam Annmarie

The five schools are located within the Tallaght community and its surrounding areas.

However, due to a lack of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) classes in schools, Sophia has, despite being seven, no option but to return to her pre-school, which caters for children with autism.

Speaking with The Echo, Sophia’s mam Annemarie Nolan said: “Sophia is the most sociable little girl and she’d love to be in a school with children her own age.

“She has progressed in her pre-school and I just think if she was in [primary] school she would flourish – but she’s been let down by the system.

“[The situation] just gets worse every year and feels further away.

“This is about education and a child’s right to an education.

“As a parent you feel like a failure.

“You know it’s not your fault, but that’s how you feel.

“And, sadly, the cold reality here is that my family is not alone in this.”

The maximum class size in each ASD class is six, with children in the special class also integrated into the wider school community.

However, while Annemarie sees the benefits of this educational setting for her daughter – who has autism – there are no places available.

“There is no school place for Sophia,” Annemarie said.

“Special schools or mainstream schools with an ASD class have no spaces.

“Sophia is number 54 on one of the school’s waiting lists and she’s on its list three years.

“There are primary schools around me without ASD classes.

“Schools should be encouraged and supported to have these classes as a requirement, especially when there is a high need in some communities.

“Getting Sophia into a school is my main priority, she needs it, deserves it.”

The Echo contacted the Department of Education, which directed the query to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an independent statutory body set up by the Minister for Education and Science in 2003.

A spokesperson for the NCSE confirmed that it is aware of a number of pupils in the Dublin 24 area without a school placement for September.

The spokesperson said: “From time to time NCSE is aware that children with special education needs experience difficulties in securing a school place.

“NCSE is aware that a small number of students in Dublin 24 may be without a school placement for September 2019.

“NCSE continues to work with schools in the area to establish specialist provision.”

The spokesperson added that the NCSE has established 21 primary special classes and two post-primary special classes in the Dublin 24 area.

An additional post-primary special class will open this September.

Children unable to get a school place are entitled to the home tuition grant, which covers the cost of home tuition or, as in Sophia’s case, pre-school fees as she awaits to enter primary school.

However, this year families have reported delays in relation to the home tuition applications, another stress for parents like Annemarie.

“We don’t even know when the kids will be heading back to pre-school as there’s a delay in the tuition grants,” Annemarie said.

“This is pushing Sophia’s [pre-school] start date in September back.”

When The Echo put this to the NCSE, a spokesperson said that it is “currently processing all home tuition applications as a matter of priority”.

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