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 special education teachers and care support from special needs assistants (SNAs).

Special education teachers

Allocating special education teachers to schools

In September 2017, a new assessment was introduced to determine how special education teachers are allocated to mainstream schools. Under the new system, each school gets a single allocation of special education teachers. The number of special education teachers allocated to a school is determined by the size of the school and its educational profile.

A school’s educational profile is broadly based on the number of students with complex special educational needs, the results of standardised tests and the social context of the school taking account of disadvantage and gender.

It is designed to give a fairer allocation of special education teachers to each school. It recognises that all schools need an allocation for special needs support, but provides a graduated allocation which takes into account the actual level of need in each school.

Schools are provided with the necessary resources in advance so that children with special educational needs can be enrolled into schools and access the additional teaching supports they need.

Further information can be found in the Department of Education’s Circular 0013/2017.

Providing special education teachers to pupils

All schools have an allocation of special education teachers which they can use to provide additional support to children who need it. Support is provided taking into account a child’s learning needs. It is no longer based on a diagnosis of a particular disability. 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.

Guidelines for primary schools supporting pupils with special educational needs have been prepared to assist schools to identify pupils who require support and plan individualised learning programmes.

Parents or guardians no longer have to source or pay for assessments for their child to get extra teaching support in school and schools don’t have to wait for these assessments to give children the extra teaching support they need.

The Department of Education 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 is being provided on the basis that no child will be refused enrolment on the grounds that the 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 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. A pupil's needs could range from needing an assistant for a few hours each week (for example, to help feed or change 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. The Department provides more information about the Special Needs Assistants Scheme in Circular 0030/2014.

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.

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

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.

July Education Programme

The July Education Programme (often called July Provision) 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.

The July Provision also provides for pupils with a severe/profound general learning disability. The funding also covers transport and escort services for the children.

The July Education Programme is part of the Department of Education’s summer education programme (summer provision).

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.

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 National Council for Special Education Needs (NCSE) manages the scheme which provides:

  • An ISL Specialist Classroom Support (ISL-SCS) for individual students to help access teaching and learning.
  • An ISL Advisor who can provide training and support for schools and staff to communicate using ISL

The first phase will support children attending mainstream school.

You apply through your child’s school for the ISL Scheme. The school applies to the NCSE.

The scheme will be introduced on a phased basis and is in addition to provision already in place for the student.

Find out more about how to qualify for the ISL Scheme.

Visiting Teacher Service

The Visiting Teacher Service provides a teaching and support service to parents of deaf or hard-of-hearing children and children with visual impairment.

Other supports

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 for each pupil enrolled in these classes.

The Health Service Executive funds the 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 Special Educational Needs Organiser - 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.


There are 4 special reading schools. There are also special classes attached to some ordinary primary schools which 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. There are also 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 school going pupils to provide training in Irish Sign Language (ISL) for these children, their siblings and parents.

Nursing supports to attend school

For the school year 2022-2023, a new pilot scheme will run to put nursing supports in place so that children with complex healthcare need can attend school. Find out more about applying for the pilot scheme.

Assessment of education needs

The Disability Act 2005 provides for an Assessment of Need to identify your child's health needs and what health services are needed to meet these needs. It is an assessment carried out by the HSE for children or young people with a disability.

Since 2021, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) must nominate a person to carry out an assessment of education needs on behalf of the HSE when an Assessment of Need is in process. Find out more about the Assessment of Need for children or young people with a disability.

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 are on the website of the Department of Education.

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

You can get information about applying for the pilot nursing supports to attend school scheme.

Where to apply

National Council for Special Education

1-2 Mill Street

Tel: (046) 948 6400
Fax: (046) 948 6404
Page edited: 21 November 2022