Athlone Community College

Date for opening of new Athlone class for additional needs students

The new additional needs class in Athlone Community College will be up and running after the mid-term break in February, both Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board (LWETB) and the Department of Education have confirmed.

LWETB announced the provision of the new class last July at a time when there was significant focus on the shortage of school places for children with autism locally.

However, the provision of the new class has been significantly delayed, leaving children with autism and the parents in limbo in the intervening months.

This week, in response to requests from the Westmeath Independent for an update, LWETB said remaining works on the provision of what it described as 'modular accommodation' at Athlone Community College should be completed by February 3.

It said it had worked closely with the Department of Education and construction firm BAM FM to ensure the modular accommodation has been provided at Athlone Community College.

It explained that a mainstream class would be based in the new modular accommodation with the resulting vacated classroom in the main school building becoming available for the students in the special class.

“This approach will help with the integration of the students with special education needs in the school. Some reconfiguration works will be undertaken on the vacated classroom in the main school building to facilitate the special class and it is envisaged that these works will take about two weeks and should be completed by the February mid-term break and the special class at the school will be fully operational thereafter,” the statement said.

“The school community have continuously engaged with the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), parents and students throughout this process to ensure that the students’ transition into the special class is as seamless as possible.

Welcoming the news, Cllr Frankie Keena, who is also chair of the board of management of the school, said whilst he welcomed the news, it had been “a long time coming to fruition”.

He said “my heart goes out the students and parents who need this particular service”.

Noting that he told this paper last September that he would be very disappointed if the classroom was not in place by Halloween, he said the pace of delivery had been “frustratingly slow”.

“It's good now to see that they are planning for after the mid-term break, that's welcome news,” he said, before complimenting the principal and senior leadership team in the school, who had been very insistent in pushing this forward.

The Department of Education also confirmed that it is envisaged the special class should be available by the February mid-term break.

It said enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government. It said in 2023 the Department will spend over €2.6 billion on special education.

"This level of educational funding and support is unprecedented and represents in excess of 27% of the Department’s total allocation for 2023."