Special needs education means the special educational arrangements which are in place for people 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).
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.
You can find the special schools in your area on the website of the Department of Education and Skills.
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 continental 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 (pdf). 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.
Special transport arrangements, including escorts and safety harnesses are available for children with disabilities attending school.
The National Council for Special Education
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is a statutory body with particular functions in relation to special needs education. Its main functions are:
Special Educational Needs Organisers
The NCSE employs over 80 Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) who are responsible for allocating additional teaching and other resources to support the special educational needs of children with disabilities at local level.
SENOs are the point of contact for parents/guardians and schools. Their main activities are:
SENOs also provide advice and support for parents of children with special educational needs. You can find the contact details for SENOs on the NCSE website.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is a statutory body. One of its functions is to advise the Minister for Education and Skills on the curriculum and syllabus requirements of students with disabilities or with special educational needs. The Council has published Guidelines for Teachers of Students with General Learning Disabilities.
The NCCA has also produced draft guidelines for teachers of exceptionally able students.
The Special Education Support Service (SESS)
The Special Education Support Service (SESS) was established to manage,
co-ordinate and develop a range of supports in response to the identified
training needs of teachers. The SESS, which is hosted in Cork Education Centre,
provides a nationwide service to teachers and special needs assistants.
The aim of the service is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning with particular reference to the education of children with special needs.
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is an executive agency of the Department of Education and Skills. NEPS provides psychological services to primary and post-primary schools, both state and private.
NEPS processes applications for 'reasonable accommodation' in the State examination arrangements for children with disabilities.
Department of Education and Skills
Tel:(090) 648 3754
1-2 Mill Street
Tel:(046) 948 6400
Fax:(046) 948 6404
There have been significant legal changes in recent years concerning special needs education. These changes affect the rights of children with disabilities and other children who suffer educational disadvantage for whatever reason.
Special needs education means the special education arrangements in place for children with disabilities. Measures to address educational disadvantage describes the supports provided for educationally disadvantaged children.
The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (pdf) provides for the education of children aged under 18 years with special educational needs. The Act focuses on children’s education but there are references to further and adult education. 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. While the Act is passed, all parts of it are not fully in effect.
The Act sets out a range of services to be provided to people with special educational needs. These include assessments, education plans and other support services. Parents can seek assessments of a child’s educational needs. Assessments can be initiated by the Health Service Executive (HSE), by a school principal or by the National Council for Special Education. The system for personal education plans is not yet in place and its implementation is being co-ordinated by the NCSE.
The HSE is currently responsible for providing health services to pre-school children and may provide speech and language therapy services. The NCSE will be responsible for providing services to school-going children.
The 2004 Act provides for alternative methods of dispute resolution and encourages a move away from the courts as the forum for redress. The Special Education Appeals Board was established in 2006 for the resolution of disputes and the determination of appeals and the first Board members were appointed. The Board is not yet in operation.
When the Appeals Board comes into operation, the Act provides for the following:
The Education Act 1998 deals with education generally but emphasises the rights of children with disabilities and with other special educational needs. This Act is in effect and provides that every person concerned with the implementation of the legislation must have regard to a number of objectives including:
The Minister for Education and Skills is obliged, among other things, to ensure that everyone living in Ireland (including people with disabilities and people who have other special educational needs) has available support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to his/her needs and abilities.
The 1998 Act gives the Minister for Education and Skills certain functions in respect of funding, including the funding of support services for students with disabilities.
Schools must use their available resources to ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with disabilities, are identified and provided for.
Boards of Management are required to use the State resources provided to the school to make reasonable provisions and accommodation for students with disabilities or other special education needs, including, where necessary, alteration of buildings and the provision of appropriate equipment.
The Act also provides that the criteria for funding of schools may allow for the payment of additional grants to schools, having regard to the level of educational disadvantage.
The 1998 Act defines support services as including, among other things:
The Equal Status Act 2000-2011, outlaws discrimination in areas of life - mainly the provision of services. The Acts apply to educational services, including private schools and pre-school facilities.
There are certain specific provisions in the Acts in relation to education and some of these deal with people with disabilities or people who have special needs.
The Equal Status Acts outlaw direct and indirect discrimination on a number of grounds including gender, religion, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community.
Under the law, a school may not discriminate in relation to:
The Equal Status Acts set out certain activities that do not constitute discrimination. The following relate to discrimination on the grounds of disability:
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.