Special Needs Education:
Special needs education means the special educational arrangements which are in place for children with disabilities. All children – including children with disabilities and children with special needs – have a constitutional right to free primary education. Children with special educational needs have the right to free primary education up to age 18 see ‘The law on special needs education’ below. In the Irish Constitution there is information about the role of the State in providing education and the rights of parents.
You are a person with special educational needs if your capacity to participate in and benefit from education is restricted due to an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability. The policy is to provide special needs education in mainstream settings as far as possible. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (pdf) provides that children are to be educated in an inclusive setting unless this would not be in the best interests of the child or the effective provision of education for other children in mainstream education.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has published an information booklet for parents, Children with Special Educational Needs (pdf).
Special needs education supports
Education for children with special needs may be provided in mainstream classes in mainstream schools, in special classes in mainstream schools or in special schools.
Many children with disabilities or special needs are in mainstream classes in mainstream schools. They may get help from learning support and resource teachers and care support from special needs assistants (SNAs). You can read more about these supports for children with special educational needs in our documents on special needs education in primary schools and post-primary schools.
Special classes in mainstream schools
Some children attend special classes in mainstream schools. These classes generally have low pupil/teacher ratios.
There are over 140 special schools catering for particular types of disability and special needs. Among them are: special schools for students who have a general learning disability at a mild or moderate level; schools for visually impaired and hearing impaired students; a few schools for students with physical disabilities; a small number of special schools for students who are emotionally disturbed.
Special arrangements for particular disabilities
Students with specific leaning disabilities may be able to get an exemption from some of the usual educational requirements. For example, if you have dyslexia you may be exempt from the requirement to study Irish and/or a modern language.
Under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (the EPSEN Act) each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. This system is not yet in place but its implementation is being coordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has published Guidelines for the Individual Education Plan process (pdf). The NCSE has also published Implementation Report: Plan for the Phased Implementation of the EPSEN Act 2004. This sets out how the Act can be implemented. However there is currently no date for the implementation of the assessment of need and individual education plans.
In 2017, a new assessment was introduced to determine how special education teachers are allocated to mainstream schools (pdf). Under the new system, each school gets a single allocation of special education teachers. The number of special education teachers allocation to a school is determined by the size of the school and its educational profile.
Schools are now provided with the necessary resources in advance so that students with special educational needs can be enrolled into schools and access additional supports. The enables a school to be inclusive and put in place additional teaching support for students who need it. The Department of Education and Skills provides information for parents and guardians on how your child can get additional teaching support in school (pdf).
You can read more about the new allocation model in our document on special needs education in primary and post-primary schools.