Special needs education in primary schools


Children with special educational needs may be in ordinary classes in mainstream primary schools or in special classes in these schools. They may get additional educational support from learning support and resource teachers and care support from special needs assistants (SNAs).

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has published an information booklet for parents, Children with Special Educational Needs (pdf).

Learning support/resource teachers

A learning support teacher service is generally available to all primary schools. The Learning Support Guidelines (pdf) published by the Department of Education and Skills explain the aims and activities of learning support programmes.They include the procedures for identifying and selecting children who might have difficulty with reading or mathematics, learning difficulties or special educational needs and who need supplemental teaching. It is the learning support teachers who provide this extra teaching – see ‘General allocation’ below. A learning support teacher service is generally available to all primary schools.

Further psychological assessment does not occur until the learning support teacher and the class teacher have tried to address the child’s problems. Children who continue to have difficulty coping with the curriculum can be psychologically assessed by the National Educational Psychological Service and may be eligible for resource teacher support.

Circular 0010/2018 (pdf) outlines the arrangements for allocation of learning support and resource teacher posts for 2018/2019.

General allocation

Primary schools get a general allocation to meet the needs of children with high incidence or less severe, more commonly occurring special needs. This includes specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia and borderline and mild general learning disabilities. Learning support/resource teachers are appointed to provide support under the general allocation of additional teaching resources to help schools to make suitable provision for:

  • Pupils who are eligible for learning-support teaching
  • Pupils with learning difficulties*
  • Pupils who have special educational needs arising from high incidence disabilities (borderline-mild general learning disability and specific learning disability).

* Learning difficulties includes pupils with mild speech and language difficulties, mild social or emotional difficulties and mild co-ordination or attention control difficulties associated with identified conditions such as dyspraxia, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Pupils with these conditions who have been assessed as being in the low incidence category get individual support.

Each school decides how the resources for high incidence support are used and how they are divided among the students who need such support. The additional teaching may be provided in the classroom or in small separate groups. Some pupils may need additional one-to-one teaching for a specified period.

Additional resources

The school must make an individual application for resource teaching hours for children with low incidence or less commonly occurring, more severe special needs. This includes hearing impairment, visual impairment, moderate general learning disabilities or autistic spectrum disorders. This application is made by the school to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through its nationwide network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs). The NCSE publishes guidelines for schools to follow when applying for resources for pupils with special educational needs. Additional resource teachers provide individual support to pupils with low incidence disabilities. The circulars set out the rules for the qualifications and recruitment of such teachers.

Additional resources will be allocated to schools as an interim measure to support children with Down Syndrome, who are not already supported through the National Council for Special Education’s (NCSE) annual allocation process. Under the interim measure schools will receive 2.5 resource teacher hours per week for each qualifying child.

Speech and language disorder

Special classes for pupils with specific speech and language disorder are attached to mainstream primary schools. Pupils who meet specific criteria may be eligible for such classes. The Department's Circular 0038/2007 sets out the Criteria for Enrolment in Special Classes for Pupils with Specific Speech and Language Disorder.

Schools may apply to the Special Educational Needs Organiser to establish these classes. Schools must have at least 5 eligible pupils in order to retain a class. A full-time teacher is assigned to each special class and the pupil/teacher ratio is 7:1. Eligible pupils may spend up to 2 years in a special class. An enhanced capitation grant is paid in respect of each pupil enrolled in these classes.

The Health Service Executive funds the provision of speech and language therapy services for the children attending these classes.

If a school has such a class and there are places to spare, these places may be offered to a maximum of 2 pupils who do not meet the eligibility criteria but who could benefit from enrolment in the class. This must be supported by the recommendation of a speech and language therapist and/or a psychologist.

In general, a child who is eligible for placement in a special class is also eligible for free transport to their nearest class.

Pupils who meet the criteria for classes may also qualify for additional teaching support (even if there is a special class available). You may apply for this support to the SENO - see 'How to apply' below.

Pupils with mild speech and language difficulties may qualify for teaching support from the school’s general allocation of teaching resources as outlined above.


Children on the autistic spectrum may avail of special needs education in the same way as other children with special needs. There are also specific provisions for them.

There are a number of special classes for children with autism, which are attached to special and mainstream schools, as well as several special classes for children with Asperger’s Syndrome. There are early intervention classes (attached to some primary schools) for children of pre-school age who are on the autistic spectrum.

The Home Tuition Scheme funds home programmes for pre-school children on the autistic spectrum who need early educational intervention. The grant aid is for 10 hours' home tuition a week for children aged 2½ to 3 and 20 hours a week for children aged 3. The funding is not provided if there is a place in school or early education available to the child.

There are also a number of stand-alone facilities providing an applied behavioural analysis (ABA) specific methodology. These facilities were all recognised as special schools in 2010.


There are 4 special reading schools and special classes attached to some ordinary primary schools which specifically support the needs of children with dyslexia. They have a reduced pupil/teacher ratio of 9:1 and an increased level of capitation grant.

Hearing impairment

There are 3 schools for students with hearing impairment and special classes attached to some mainstream schools. The special classes have a pupil/teacher ratio of 7:1. There is an enhanced subvention and grant aid towards special equipment.

There is a weekly home tuition Irish Sign Language Support Scheme for deaf pre-school children and deaf schoolgoing pupils to provide training in Irish Sign Language (ISL) for these children, their siblings and parents.

Home Tuition Programme

The Home Tuition Programme provides funding to parents to provide education at home for children who (for a number of reasons, such as chronic illness) are unable to attend school. The scheme is also available to children with special educational needs who are awaiting a suitable educational placement.

July Education Programme

The July Education Programme is a funding arrangement for schools to provide further special needs education in the month of July. Special schools and mainstream primary schools with special classes catering for children with autism may choose to extend their education services through the month of July. There is also a July Programme for pupils with a severe/profound general learning disability. The funding also covers transport and escort services for the children.

You can find information about the July programme on the Department of Education and Skills website.

If schools are not participating in the July Education Programme, home tuition during July is offered as an alternative for the pupils who would normally attend such schools.

Visiting Teacher Service

The Visiting Teacher Service provides a teaching and support service to parents and schools for pupils who have difficulties resulting from hearing disability or visual impairment.

Special needs assistants

Special needs assistants (SNAs) are allocated to schools to work with children who have specific care needs. They provide non-teaching care support. SNAs support pupils who have care needs resulting from a disability, behavioural difficulties or a significant medical issue. This might include a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour makes them a danger to themselves or other pupils. Pupils’ needs could range from needing an assistant for a few hours each week (for example, to help feed or change the pupil(s) or bring them to the toilet) to requiring a full-time assistant.

SNAs may work with more than one child and can also work on a part-time basis depending on the needs of the school.

The Department provides more information about the Special Needs Assistants Scheme in Circular 0030/2014 (pdf).

How to apply

If your child has special educational needs you should talk to the school principal about the type of education that would suit your child's needs. You can also discuss with your local Special Educational Needs Organiser what learning supports or additional resources may be available.

Schools should apply to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which administers and processes applications for special educational resources using its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers.

Application forms for special educational resources and a list of Special Educational Needs Organisers are available on the NCSE website.

Application forms for the Home Tuition Scheme 2017 are on the website of the Department of Education and Skills.

Home-based July Education Programme application forms are also available on the Department’s website.

Where to apply

National Council for Special Education

1-2 Mill Street

Tel:(046) 948 6400
Fax:(046) 948 6404
Homepage: http://www.ncse.ie/

Page edited: 22 February 2018