Special needs education: post-primary


Students with special educational needs may be in ordinary classes in mainstream post-primary schools or in special classes in these schools or in special schools. They may get help from special education teachers and care support from special needs assistants (SNAs).

Mainstream schools

Post-primary students with special educational needs may attend a mainstream post-primary school. They may be in mainstream classes with the support of a special education teacher and/or the care support of a special needs assistant or may be in a special class.

A school may apply for a grant to make the school accessible for a student with a disability, for example, to put in a ramp or accessible toilet accommodation. Information about this provision can be obtained from the Building Unit of the Department of Education – see 'How to apply' below.

The following support services are available for students with disabilities and special educational needs attending post-primary schools:

Special education teachers

In September 2017, a new assessment was introduced to determine how special education teachers are allocated to mainstream school (pdf).

Schools are 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).

If you have concerns with the level of support being given to your child you should discuss this first with your child’s class teacher or special education teacher. You could also discuss these issues with the school principal and if necessary at a later point if you continue to have concerns with the Chairperson of your Board of Management.

The allocation of special education teachers are being provided on the basis that no child will be refused enrolment on the grounds that school does not have sufficient teaching resources to meet that child’s needs. If your child is refused enrolment to a school you may appeal this decision to a Section 29 Appeal Committee.

Special needs assistants

Special needs assistants (SNAs) are allocated to schools to work with students who have specific care needs. They provide non-teaching care support. SNAs support students who have care needs resulting from a disability, behavioural difficulties or a significant medical issue.

It was announced in May 2021, that the introduction of the frontloaded Allocation Model for Special Needs Assistants for students in mainstream classes in primary and post-primary schools will be deferred to the 2022-2023 school year.

Special classes

There are special classes for students with special educational needs attached to a number of post-primary schools. These classes usually cater for the learning needs of students with a mild or moderate level of learning disability.

Special schools

There are special schools throughout the country for students with general learning disabilities. These schools provide education for students from 5 to 18 years who have a general learning disability at a mild or moderate level. In addition, there are post-primary schools for visually impaired and hearing impaired students in Dublin. These schools cater for both day students and boarders. There are a small number of schools for students with physical disabilities and a small number of special schools for students who have behavioural and emotional difficulties.

Students usually take the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations.

The schools also make provision for students whose level of disability would make it very difficult for them to benefit from the Junior and Leaving Certificate programmes. In some schools for students with mild learning disabilities, students may be offered the opportunity to take part of the Junior Certificate curriculum.

State examinations

Students with specific disabilities may be exempt from part of the examination in a particular subject. In such cases, the certificates awarded may note that the student has not sat an element of the examination. The annotation is made where a core area of a subject is not assessed, or where the mode of assessment used has the same effect. For example, hearing impaired students may be exempt from the aural component of the examination. The certificate would note that all elements of the subject were examined except the aural element. Similarly, students with dyslexia may have spelling and grammar waivers in language subjects and their certificates would note this.

The Equality Tribunal ruled in 2006 that this annotation was contrary to the Equality Acts. On appeal, the Circuit Court found that the system of exemption and related notation is a reasonable accommodation in the context of the Equal Status legislation, and in June 2010 the High Court confirmed this finding. This decision has since been appealed to the Supreme Court.

There are arrangements in place for reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities sitting examinations.

Irish Sign Language (ISL) scheme

The Irish Sign Language (ISL) scheme is for children who are Deaf and are attending primary school, post-primary school or special school and whose main means of communication is using Irish Sign Language. Children must be attending a recognised school.

The scheme will provide:

  • Intensive in-school specialised ISL support for individual students to help access teaching and learning.
  • Training and support for school and staff to communicate using ISL

The scheme will be managed by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).

Home Tuition Scheme

The Home Tuition Scheme 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

Further education and training

The National Council for Special Education has published a guide to post school education and training (pdf) which provides information on the options available to school leavers with disabilities.

How to apply

If your child has special educational needs you should talk to the school principal about what learning supports are available in the school. If you need advice about a post-primary school which could meet your child's needs you should contact your local Special Educational Needs Organiser - see 'Where to apply' below.

Schools should contact the Building Unit of the Department of Education and Skills for information about making schools accessible. Call the main Department telephone number for assistance - see 'Where to apply'.

Schools should contact the National Council for Special Education (NSCE) which administers and processes applications for special educational resources using its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) - see 'Where to apply'.

Where to apply

Contact your local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO).

National Council for Special Education

1-2 Mill Street

Tel: (046) 948 6400
Fax: (046) 948 6404

Department of Education

Marlborough Street
Dublin 1

Tel: (01) 889 6400
Page edited: 11 March 2022