Country information for Ireland - Assessment within inclusive education systems

Assessment of need

Under Part 2 of the Disability Act (2005), children under the age of five on 1 June 2007 have a right to apply through their parents or guardians for an assessment of their health and educational needs arising from a disability. The Act requires that the Health Service Executive (HSE) authorises Assessment Officers to arrange, oversee and co-ordinate an assessment of need and to produce a report based on the outcome of the assessment. The assessment must be carried out without regard to resource constraints or the capacity to provide the service in question.

Assessment Officers are independent in their statutory function. Where an assessment report determines the need for health or education services, a Liaison Officer must arrange for the preparation of a service statement. The statement specifies the health services to be provided and the period of time within which they are to be provided. Service statements can only contain recommendations for services that the HSE has resources to provide. Education services are not specified in the service statement, as they are the responsibility of the Department of Education and Skills.

If a need for educational provision is identified during an assessment, the matter must be referred to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) or to a school principal, for assessment under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004). As the relevant sections of the EPSEN Act (2004) relating to the assessment process (sections 3 and 4 of the Act) have not yet been implemented, the inputs from the education sector are provided by the NCSE in co-operation with the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) under Section 8(3) of the Disability Act (2005).

The Health Research Board manages the National Intellectual Disability Database (NIDD) and the National Physical and Sensory Disability Database (NPSDD) on behalf of the Department of Health. The NIDD has in excess of 28,000 registrations and the NPSDD now has more than 20,000 people registered. The information is used to inform regional and national planning of services by providing information on current service use and future service need.

Continuum of support in schools

NEPS psychologists encourage schools to use a dynamic, graduated problem-solving process of information gathering, assessment, intervention and review when identifying and responding to learners with special educational needs (SEN). The NEPS has produced guidelines for primary and post-primary schools on how to identify and support learners with SEN. These guidelines set out three levels of support for learners with SEN:

  • Classroom Support/Support for All: a process of prevention, early identification and effective mainstream teaching.
  • School Support/Support for Some: an assessment and intervention process directed at some learners, or groups of learners, who require additional input from the school.
  • School Support Plus/Support for a Few: generally characterised by more intensive and individualised support. A small number of learners will have more severe or complex difficulties which require the direct involvement of the educational psychologist at this level.

NEPS psychologists carry out psychological assessment of learners with special needs as part of their duties. Psychologists directly employed by the HSE also conduct assessments.

The EPSEN Act created a statutory requirement for education plans for individual learners with SEN. While the relevant sections of the Act have not yet commenced, many schools are already developing educational plans for learners with SEN.

In 2006, the NCSE published national Guidelines on the Individual Education Plan Process for teachers, parents and schools. Schools are currently encouraged to use individual education plans through policy guidance, support, training and inspection.

In 2014, the NCSE report Delivery for Students with Special Educational Needs: A better and more equitable way recommended a new system for allocating teaching resources to mainstream schools to support learners with SEN. During the 2015/2016 school year, the Department of Education and Skills conducted a pilot study in forty-seven schools, at primary and post-primary levels, to examine the feasibility of such a system. As part of this pilot study, the Inspectorate conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of the allocation model as demonstrated in the pilot schools.

Following the pilot, the new model came into effect in September 2017. The allocations were revised in early 2019 with the revisions taking effect from September 2019. The next revision will be in early 2021 and every two years thereafter.

Additional supports for children with special educational needs within the education system

Early education intervention

The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme is funded by the Irish State to provide all children with access to free pre-school placements for two years before they start primary school. The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM), introduced in June 2016, is a model of supports. It is designed to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience for children with a disability so that they can fully participate in the ECCE programme. If it is in the best interests of the child, the ECCE funding may be split between a specialist pre-school for part of the week and a mainstream pre-school for the remainder of the week.

AIM offers tailored, practical supports based on need and does not require a formal diagnosis of disability. It is a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, offering a range of universal and targeted supports. For many young children, AIM universal supports (levels 1–3), which focus on educational and capacity-building initiatives for providers and practitioners, are sufficient to ensure inclusion. However, some children require one or more further, specific supports to ensure that they can participate fully in the ECCE programme. Additional targeted supports could take the form of:

  • expert early childhood care and educational advice and mentoring (level 4);
  • specialised equipment, appliances and minor alterations (level 5);
  • therapeutic supports (level 6);
  • additional funds for extra assistance in the ECCE pre-school room (level 7).

Applications for AIM support are made by pre-school providers in partnership with parents. A detailed guide is available on the AIM website.

Children with special needs may also attend other state-funded early childhood settings. These include early intervention settings attached to HSE-funded service providers for children with disabilities and other private pre-primary settings that are supported by HSE grant aid or HSE-funded pre-school assistants.

The Department of Education provides early intervention classes for children from the age of three. There are early intervention classes for young children with hearing impairment and for young children with autism. The visiting teacher service is for hearing and visual impairment and advocacy and interventions with a visiting teacher begin as early as within the first year of life once a diagnosis is confirmed. Children with autism who are aged between 2½ and 3 can access a grant for home tuition. These children become eligible for enrolment in an early intervention class when they reach the age of three. If a child with autism is awaiting a pre-primary placement, funding for education is provided through the home tuition scheme as an interim measure.

The state aims over time to support a single early intervention setting structure. In the meantime, parents can access one or more of the above mentioned early intervention settings, subject to availability of service and meeting the eligibility criteria for support.

The Department of Education also funds the Early Start Programme, which is offered in selected primary schools in designated disadvantaged areas. The Early Start Programme is a one-year preventative intervention scheme. It provides targeted support for children who are at risk of not reaching their potential within the school system. The scheme also caters, to some extent, for pre-primary children with SEN in these areas.

Infant classes in mainstream primary schools are available for all children aged between four and six, including children with SEN. These classes can be regarded as providing early years education. Infant classes cater for 95% of all 5–6 year olds and 59% of 4–5 year olds.


Last updated 23/09/2020


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