Educational options for children with disabilities include:
- Education in the mainstream school system
- Special classes in mainstream schools and
- Special schools.
Other educational supports include Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), Assistive Technology, Home Tuition and the Visiting Teacher Service.
The EPSEN (Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs) Act was passed into Irish law in July 2004. Under this Act, Special Educational Needs are defined as:
… a restriction in the capacity of the person to participate
in and benefit from education on account of an enduring
physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability, or any
other condition which results in a person learning differently
from a person without that condition.
The EPSEN Act recognises that special educational needs may arise from four different areas of disability:
- Mental health
- Learning disability
or any other condition that results in a child learning differently from a child who does not have that condition.
It is important to understand that a child can have a disability but not have any special educational need arising from that disability, which requires additional supports in school.
In Ireland, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is the statutory body with particular functions in relation to special needs education.
Supports for pupils with Special Educational Needs
Special needs education is provided in mainstream settings as far as possible. The Department of Education and Skills provides for three main types of education provision which are available to primary and post-primary pupils with special educational needs:
- A mainstream class in a mainstream primary or post-primary school where the class or subject teacher has primary responsibility for the progress of all pupils in the class, including pupils with special educational needs. Additional teaching support from a learning support or resource teacher may be provided, where appropriate.
- A special class in a mainstream primary or post-primary school with a lower pupil-teacher ratio specified according to category of disability. This means that classes have small numbers of pupils, for example, a special class for children with autistic spectrum disorder has one teacher for every six pupils.
- A special school with a lower pupil-teacher ratio specified according to category of disability. This means that classes have small numbers of pupils, for example a special school for children with moderate general learning disability has one teacher for every eight pupils.
In all of these settings, children with special educational needs (SEN) can be provided with an appropriate and differentiated school curriculum, where necessary, and fully qualified professional teachers.
The term ‘differentiated curriculum’ means that teachers adjust their teaching to take account of children's different needs and abilities. Children who have more complex needs will have access to individualised education programmes. Children with additional care needs may have access to a special needs assistant (SNA), where this is necessary and appropriate.
Certain additional supports may be made available to schools for pupils with special educational needs in each of the above settings including:
- Additional Learning Supports - i.e. speech and language therapist; educational psychologist
- Resource Teaching Support
- Special Needs Assistant Support
(It is important to note that additional supports are never automatic - application must be made to the appropriate agency.)
Special Educational Needs Organisers
The NCSE employs over 80 Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) who are responsible for allocating additional teaching and other resources to support the special educational needs of children with disabilities at local level.
SENOs are the point of contact for parents/guardians and schools. Their main activities are:
- Processing applications from all schools for resource teacher support in respect of children with low-incidence disabilities such as moderate general learning disabilities, visual or hearing impairments, physical disabilities or autism, and deciding on the level of support appropriate to the school
- Processing applications from second-level schools for resource teacher support in respect of children with high-incidence disabilities such as mild general learning disability and deciding on the level of support appropriate to the school
- Processing applications from schools and deciding on the appropriate level of special needs assistant support for children with disabilities
- Examining applications from all schools for special equipment/assistive technology (decisions on this are made by the Department of Education and Skills)
- Examining applications from schools for transport arrangements for children with disabilities and making recommendations to the Department of Education and Skills
- Identifying the appropriate educational setting for individual children with special educational needs
SENOs also provide advice and support for parents of children with special educational needs. You can find the contact details for SENOs on the NCSE website.
Assistive Technology - The Assistive Technology Scheme provides funding to schools towards the purchase of equipment for pupils who have been assessed as having a special educational need that requires specialist equipment in order to access the curriculum. Grant-aid is pupil-specific and based on the pupil's needs, as determined by the associated professional. There is no upper limit.
Details of the Assistive Technology Grant Scheme are available here.
Home Tuition - If your child is unable to go to school on a regular basis because of serious medical difficulties, they may be able to access home tuition, which may also be provided if your child has special educational needs and is waiting for a suitable school place.
Home tuition is also used to provide early intervention for pre-school children with autism. The grant aid is for 10 hours home tuition a week for children aged two and a half to three and 20 hours a week for children aged three and over. The funding is not provided if there is a place in school or early education available to your child.
Application is made directly to the Home Tuition Unit of the Department of Education and Skills.
The Visiting Teacher Service - If your child has special educational needs resulting from hearing difficulties or visual impairment, you can access the Visiting Teacher Service of the Department of Education and Skills from the time your child is two years old. This service provides teaching and support to parents and schools.
The visiting teacher will travel to meet you and your child, and other professionals who are involved with your child. Parents may refer their child to the Service, or referral can be made through an eye clinic or the National Council for the Blind.
Each visiting teacher is responsible for a particular region and is allocated a caseload of pupils. The visiting teacher will continue to provide guidance and support for your child throughout their education, up to and including third level. Assistive technology is an example of the supports that the visiting teacher can provide, where necessary.