Delay in Ratoath special needs unit raised in Seanad

Ratoath Junior National School says it is awaiting final plans and costings on works required to provide the special education unit that has been sanctioned for the school and will forward them to the Department of Education for approval as soon as they are received.

It is not yet clear whether the unit will be ready for September and with the existing unit in Ratoath at St Pauls NS full, these places are desperately needed as parents of children with additional needs are having to travel outside the area to access school places for their children.

The delay in providing the new special education unit for the school was recently raised in the Seanad with Minister of State for Special Education, Josepha Madigan, outlining in her response that the Department is awaiting additional information from the school before it can be progressed.

Senator Aidan Davitt who raised the issue said "time was of the essence" and asked the minister to "shed some light on the matter of a special needs unit in Ratoath Junior National School", speaking in the Seanad on 31st May.

In response, Minister Madigan said the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) sanctioned a special class in November last year and once sanctioned, it is then up to the particular school to apply to the Department. She said her understanding is that the school only applied under the additional accommodation scheme for the refurbishment of rooms in April of this year and the Department has asked for more information from the school, adding that a reminder had to be issued recently because the information was not forthcoming.

She said there should be no difficulty in getting the special class up and running once the outstanding information is received.

In a statement to the Meath Chronicle, the school outlined that after submitting their application, they had expected the Department of Education to appoint a design team and cost the project but they were informed that the school needed to engage an architect and quantity surveyor and they are now awaiting final plans and costings, which will be submitted as soon as they are received.

"Ratoath Junior National School was sanctioned a Special Class for children with ASD in November 2021 by the NCSE. This was welcomed by the Board of Management and the Board immediately engaged with the NCSE in relation to the special class requirements. The NCSE responded to the Board by the end of March 2022. All the relevant paperwork was then submitted by the Board to DES in early April 2022. At this stage the expectation was that the design team from the DES would visit the school to design and cost the project. However, the DES informed the school that they would not be appointing a design team and they advised the school to engage the services of an architect and quantity surveyor which the Board immediately did.

The Board is now awaiting the final plans and costings from them and as soon as they are available, they will be forwarded immediately to the DES," said chairperson, Mary Wallace in the statement.

According to the school, the project involves a significant re-design of the existing school to provide the necessary facilities.

It is not clear whether the project can be delivered for this coming September and the school said it will have a clearer indication of the time-scale once approval is got from the Department and a builder is appointed.

Local Cllr Nick Killian welcomed the unit and said children are having to travel outside the area to access special education classes as St Paul's is full, adding that "parents are at their wits ends" trying to get places for their children.

"I am encouraging Ratoath Junior National School's board of management and the NCSE to work in full collaboration to make sure it happens as soon as possible," he said.

Cllr Damien O'Reilly said there is a "sense of urgency in the community" to get these important classrooms opened. He said the minister had outlined that everything is ready to go on their side and he urged the school to do whatever needs to be done to get this open for September, as parents are "crying out for these places".