More than two-thirds of school principals surveyed in Dublin 15 believe they have students who are struggling to cope because they are in an “inappropriate educational setting”.

The system fails to cater for an increasing number of children with complex needs who are either on reduced hours or excluded from school altogether, according to data compiled by a group campaigning for an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Specific School.

A staggering 68% of principals surveyed believe they have students struggling to cope – and at least 54 of these children would be better placed in an ASS.

The Autism School D15 committee survey found that 103 of 177 children in ASD classes – 59% – NEVER access mainstream education, which was one of the core aims of ASD classes when they were first established.

Spokesperson Sile Parsons said: “Units or special classes in mainstream schools are there to support children with ASD who have the ability to access mainstream class.

“The children with more complex needs are being forced into an educational environment that is not able to cope with their needs and as such – as was confirmed in our survey – up to 20 students are on continually reduced hours, with others being excluded from the school altogether.”

The majority of children with moderate to severe autism are non-verbal, and staff within ASD units are not trained to cope with behavioural issues such as flight risk, self-harm, sensory overload and violent outbursts.

Ms Parsons added: “Parents with children of school-going age and children who have been excluded are faced with no other option but to start the arduous task of applying for the home tuition grant.”

She added: “The Department insists that this grant is an interim measure, but there are children in Dublin 15 who are in receipt of this grant for up to five years.”

Senior educational psychologist Dr Helen Connaughton agreed, adding: “This means that the educational and developmental needs of some of the most vulnerable children are not being met.”

A report by the NCSE assessing the need for an Autism Specific School in Dublin 15 was due for publication in January, but has not yet been released.

Ms Parsons said: “This means parents of children with ASD in Dublin 15 are facing the prospect of another year of stress and uncertainty in attempting to find an appropriate education for their vulnerable child.”