Special needs education within the education system - Ireland

Pre-school level

Infant classes in mainstream primary schools are regarded as providing pre-school education for all children, including children with SEN. They cater for 95% of all 5-6 year olds and 59% of 4-5 year olds. The figures include over a thousand children with identified special educational needs in mainstream primary schools and almost three hundred in special national schools. However, the Department of Education and Science has not been directly involved in providing focused pre-school education for children with disabilities apart from its delivery of the Early Start Programme which caters for, to some extent, but is not focused on, pre-school children with SEN. It also funds pre-schools for children of the Travelling Community. The Early Start Programme is a one-year preventative intervention scheme offered in selected schools in designated disadvantaged areas in Ireland. The objective of the programme, which is managed, funded and evaluated by the Department, is to tackle educational disadvantage by targeting children who are at risk of not reaching their potential within the school system. The Early Start Pre-School Programme was introduced in October 1994 in eight schools in disadvantaged areas, expanded the following year, and currently caters for approximately 1,700 pupils in 40 schools throughout the country.

Many other children attend some form of pre-school provision. For detailed information on this provision, please consult the website of the National Disability Authority at www.nda.ie

For detailed information on the Early Start Programme, please visit the website of the Citizens Information Board

However, due to the demand that has arisen in particular areas especially in relation to autism, the DES has, in recent years, established pre-school classes to facilitate the demand for early intervention provision for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The White Paper on Early Childhood Education "Ready to Learn" set out a comprehensive strategy for the development of early childhood education up to six years with a particular focus on disadvantage and special needs. To access this document, please visit the website of the Department of Education and Science

At a policy level, the Irish Government is committed to the development of a national system of early education places for children with intellectual disabilities. The DES is currently engaging with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in this context. A cross-sectoral team representative of officials from the Departments of Health and Children, Education and Science, the Health Service Executive and the National Council for Special Education has been established to ensure that the arrangements for the implementation of Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, which deals with children aged 0-5 years, and the EPSEN Act 2004 are progressed in tandem. Part 2 of the Disability Act is being commenced from 1 June 2007.

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The mainstream system

Students with special educational needs are accommodated in both mainstream and special schools. A revised system, the General Allocation Model (GAM), for the allocation of teaching resources to mainstream primary schools to cater for pupils who need additional support, is now in operation. This system involves a general allocation for primary schools to cater for pupils who are eligible for learning support and pupils with borderline mild and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability. The revised system continues to allow for the allocation of individual resource teaching hours in respect of pupils with lower incidence special educational needs, in accordance with Department of Education and Science circulars.

Details of the general allocation model and guidelines for the deployment of teaching staff and resources are contained in Special Education Circular 02/05. (Please visit www.education.ie for further details)

Resource teacher hours are allocated to post-primary schools for the support of individual students who have been assessed as having special educational needs. The allocation may consist of part-time resource teacher hours, whole-time teacher equivalents and/or teacher posts. The number of additional teacher hours allocated to a post-primary school depends on the number of students assessed as having special educational needs and on the level of their needs. The procedures set out in Department of Education and Science Circulars07/02 and 08/02 provide the basis for the allocation of resource teaching hours to post-primary schools, and the allocation of special needs assistant (SNA) support to both primary and post-primary schools. See www.education.ie for details

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through its network of special educational needs organizers has responsibility for decision-making in relation to the allocation of resource teacher and special needs assistant posts to schools. Application can be made by a school to the NCSE for additional resources in respect of a student with special educational needs. The NCSE may request a school to make specific provision for students in a category of special educational need (for example visual impairment, moderate general learning disability or autism) within a particular geographical area. In such circumstances, additional staffing is usually allocated to enable the school to establish a special class/unit for students within the category of special educational needs involved.

For further information on the operations of the NCSE, please visit www.ncse.ie

Existing resources supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs

The EPSEN Act is the culmination of a process of investment in special educational services which has seen significant growth in the resources made available. In 2007, over €630m is being targeted at supporting the educational needs of these pupils.

Recent years have seen the appointment of:

  • More than 1,000 teachers in special schools
  • Over 5,000 teachers at primary school level dealing directly with children with special educational needs, compared to less than 1,500 in 1998
  • At second level, over 2,100 additional teachers are working with pupils with special educational needs. This compares to approximately 200 teachers that were in place in 1998 for such pupils
  • More than 8,000 special needs assistants supporting pupils in primary and post primary schools – compared to 300 in 1998
  • Over €50m spent in 2006 on school transport for special needs pupils; and
  • Since September 2005 all primary schools have access to Learning Support/Resource Teachers through a General Allocation system based on their pupil enrolment figures, which means early intervention is available from the time a child enrolls in the school.

For further information on numbers of students with SEN in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, please visit the websites of the National Council for Special Education and the website of the National Disability Authority

Special Schools

Students with SEN are also accommodated in a variety of special schools and in special classes attached to mainstream primary and post-primary schools. The special schools cater for students with mild general learning disability, moderate general learning disability and sever/profound general learning disability; for emotionally disturbed students; for students with autistic spectrum disorders; for students with physical and multiple disabilities; for students with visual and hearing impairment; and students with specific learning disability. Special classes for students in most of these categories are attached to mainstream schools, mainly at primary level. According to the Statistical Report of the Department of Education and Science 2003/4, there were 6,621 pupils enrolled in a total of 108 special schools for students with disabilities.

Last modified Mar 26, 2010

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