Country information for Ireland - Legislation and policy
In Ireland, a substantial body of legislation provides statutory support for education policy and provision for children with special educational needs (SEN). This legislation arises from the community’s and the government’s desire to assert the rights of children with SEN to an education that is appropriate to their needs, and to ensure statutory protection for their rights to such an education.
The legislation includes the following:
- Education Act (1998)
- Equal Status Act (2000)
- Equality Act (2004)
- Education (Welfare) Act (2000)
- Data Protection Acts (1988, 1998 and 2003)
- Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (2004)
- Disability Act (2005).
These acts provide a statutory basis for education policy and provision by the Department of Education and Skills, other government departments and state agencies in relation to the education of all children, including children with SEN.
The Education Act (1998)
The Education Act (1998) gives statutory rights to parents in relation to their children’s education. It legally obliges schools to provide for a diversity of needs, values and traditions. The preamble to the Education Act (1998) specifically refers to provision for the education of persons with disabilities or SEN. A stated objective of the Act is ‘to give practical effect to the constitutional rights of children, including children who have a disability or other special educational needs’.
Under the Education Act (1998), schools must use their resources to ensure that the educational needs of learners with disabilities or other SEN are identified and provided for. Schools’ boards of management must use the resources provided by the state to make reasonable provision and accommodation for learners with disabilities or other SEN. These boards are required to publish the school’s policy concerning admission of and participation by learners with disabilities or other SEN. They must also prepare and regularly review and update a school plan outlining how the school proposes to achieve equality of access and participation in the school by learners with disabilities or other SEN.
Under the Act, the Minister for Education and Skills is responsible for ensuring that learners with disabilities or other SEN can access support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to their needs and abilities. The support services that the minister can provide for schools and for learners with SEN and their parents include:
- assessment, psychological, guidance and counselling services;
- technical aid and equipment;
- adaptations to buildings to facilitate access;
- early childhood and continuing education;
- Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support
The minister may make regulations relating to access to schools and education centres by learners with disabilities or other SEN.
Further information about the Education Act (1998) is available on the Department of Education website.
The Equal Status Act (2000) and Equality Act (2004)
The Equal Status Act (2000) and Equality Act (2004) promote equality and prohibit types of discrimination, harassment and related behaviour. Discrimination on the ground of disability includes:
a refusal or failure by the provider to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability by providing special treatment or facilities, if without such special treatment or facilities it would be impossible or unduly difficult for the person to avail himself or herself of the service.
The Act states that ‘educational establishments’ shall not discriminate in relation to:
- the admission or the terms or conditions of admission of a person as a learner to the establishment;
- the access of a learner to any course, facility or benefit provided by the establishment;
- any other term or condition of participation in the establishment by a learner;
- the expulsion of a learner from the establishment or any other sanction against the learner.
Exemption from these provisions is permitted when compliance with them in relation to learners with disabilities would make impossible, or seriously limit, the provision of services for other learners.
The Department of Education and Skills and the Equality Authority have jointly published guidelines entitled ‘Schools and the Equal Status Act’. Further information about these guidelines and these acts is available on the Equality Authority website.
Education (Welfare) Act (2000)
The Education (Welfare) Act (2000) states that the National Educational Welfare Board – now known as the Educational Welfare Services of Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) – must ‘ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education’. It must also ‘promote and foster, in recognised schools, an environment that encourages students to attend schools and participate fully in the life of the school’. While this Act does not specifically refer to special education, its provisions apply to all learners, including those with SEN.
Further information about the Education (Welfare) Act is available on the Department of Education website.
Information about the Educational Welfare Services is available on Tusla’s website.
Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act (2004)
The EPSEN Act (2004) sets out a comprehensive statutory framework for the education of people with SEN. The Act’s purpose, as set out in the preamble, is to make further provision for the education of people with special education needs in an inclusive environment with those who do not have such needs and to this end to establish the National Council for Special Education and to define the functions of this body.
The EPSEN Act (2004) promotes inclusive education for learners with SEN. It outlines the duties and responsibilities of schools’ boards of management and principal teachers with regard to education provision for learners with SEN. It deals with the assessment and identification of SEN and the development and implementation of education plans for learners with assessed SEN. It confers on parents a series of rights in relation to their child with SEN.
Only certain sections of the EPSEN Act have been implemented at the time of compiling this information. The sections that are implemented include the establishment of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the sections of the Act that provide for promoting an inclusive approach to the education of children with SEN. The parts of the Act that have not been implemented include the provisions relating to an individual right to assessment, individual education plans and the designation of schools.
The NCSE’s functions, as set out in the EPSEN Act (2004), include the following:
- to disseminate to schools, parents and others appropriate information relating to best practice, nationally and internationally, concerning the education of learners with SEN;
- in consultation with schools and health boards, to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services for learners with SEN;
- in consultation with schools, to plan for the integration of education for learners with SEN with education for learners generally;
- to make information regarding parents’ and children’s entitlements available to the parents of learners with SEN;
- to ensure that the progress of learners with SEN is monitored and reviewed at regular intervals;
- to assess and review the resources required in relation to educational provision for learners with SEN;
- to ensure that a continuum of special education provision is available as required in relation to each category of disability;
- to advise the minister on any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities;
- to conduct, commission and publish research on matters relevant to the functions of the Council.
When the EPSEN Act (2004) is fully implemented, the NCSE will have specific functions in relation to assessing learners, preparing individual education plans and co-ordinating education and health services. Further information about the NCSE is available on its website.
The EPSEN Act (2004) refers to the provision by the Health Boards of certain services for children with SEN. The Health Service Executive (HSE) replaced the Health Boards in 2005 and relevant responsibilities were transferred. The HSE website provides further information.
The Disability Act (2005)
The key purposes of the Disability Act (2005) are:
- to enable provision to be made for assessing the health and education needs of people with disabilities;
- to enable government ministers to provide services to meet those needs;
- to provide for ministers to prepare plans for the provision of services;
- to provide for appeals in the event of services not being provided;
- to promote equality and social inclusion.
Part 2 of the Disability Act (2005) sets out a system for assessing individual health service needs. It provides a statutory entitlement to an independent assessment of health and education needs, a statement of the proposed services (service statement) and an independent redress mechanism where there is a failure to provide these entitlements. Under this section, any person who considers that they may have a disability is entitled to apply for an independent assessment of need. A relative, guardian or personal advocate can apply for an assessment of need on behalf of a person with a disability.
Arising from the assessment, the Act stipulates that the person concerned be given an assessment report. The assessment report indicates:
- whether a person has a disability;
- the nature and extent of the disability;
- the health and education needs arising from the disability;
- the services considered appropriate to meet the needs;
- the timescale ideally required for the delivery of services;
- when a review of the assessment should be undertaken.
Part 2 of the Disability Act (2005) commenced in June 2007 for children aged under five. The ‘Assessment within inclusive education systems’ section of this website provides further information about the identification and assessment procedures provided for in the Act.
Information about the Disability Act (2005) is available on the Department of Justice and Equality website.
The Data Protection Acts (1988, 1998 and 2003)
The Data Protection Acts are designed to protect the rights of individuals (including those with SEN) with regard to personal data that is held in computer files or in manual files that are structured or searchable by reference to individuals. The law defines personal data as:
data relating to a living individual who is or can be identified either from the data or from the data in conjunction with other information that is in, or is likely to come into, the possession of the data controller (Data Protection (Amendment) Act (2003)).
Schools and other public agencies are required to conform with the Data Protection Acts and any further guidance provided by the Data Protection Commissioner regarding the management of information on individual learners.
For further information, refer to ‘Guidance for Controllers on Data Security’, published by the Data Protection Commissioner in 2020.
Last updated 23/09/2020