The Chief Executive of the National Council for Special Education has said there are "roughly 160" children nationally who do not have a special educational needs place in school, and that they do not have an exact figure for how many must travel outside their catchment area for such a place.

John Kearney was speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime after a meeting with Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan to discuss the shortage of school places for pupils with additional needs.

Ms Madigan said on Tuesday evening she would take "substantive action" on the lack of school places for children with special needs, and would have "no other option" but to issue Section 37a notices to schools in areas in need of additional places.

Mr Kearney said they were "working progressively with a view to ensuring as much as possible" that those children would have an SEN place in September, adding that it was "an intricate process".

Asked how many pupils are without an SEN place, Mr Kearney said there were "roughly 130" in Dublin, while nationally, the figure stood at "roughly 160".

"We would be confident at accommodating them," he said, adding that parental choice also had to be factored in when changing children from one enrolment to another.

Asked about the estimate by the AsIAm autism charity that up to 26% of families of children with autism do not have an appropriate school place, Mr Kearney said: "Ultimately for us long-term, every school in the country would have special class placements. We’re working towards that.

"The Department’s long-term strategy is to deliver building facilities to accommodate that. There are anomalies in terms of families and children travelling outside their catchment area," he added.

Mr Kearney said those travelling for an SEN place outside their catchment area "is a source of concern" to the Council, adding that it currently does not have data within its current reporting framework on how many children with disabilities are travelling outside their catchment area for a place.

He said there have been regular meetings with the Department, and that "significant progress" has been made since last year, with 290 special classes catering for over 1,700 placements last year.

"Obviously we’re getting to the pinch-points, and the obvious pinch-point is in relation to Dublin. The minister in her own words has said one student out of a special class placement is one student too many," she said.

Asked about what could be done to help the Milne family, Mr Kearney said anyone who saw the Prime Time programme could not not be moved by the issues facing the family.

He said he would be "doing everything possible" to ensure that Ryan and Kyle Milne get the place they deserve.