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Special Educational Needs
Children with special educational needs (SEN) have the right to free primary education until the age of 18 years old. Under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (the EPSEN Act) children with SEN should be educated in inclusive, mainstream stetting unless this would go against the child’s best interests or negatively affect the other children’s education. The Department of Education recognises the need for a continuum of provision for students with SEN:
- support in ordinary classes in mainstream schools, from Learning Support and Resource Teachers and/or Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)
- a special class within a mainstream school
- a special school.
Under the EPSEN Act each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan. This is discussed in Chapter 6.10 Current debates and reforms.
The Department of Education’s policy is moving away from a static definition of disability or special educational need to a more holistic approach which recognises that a young person may have a range of needs which will, with targeted interventions over time, reduce or change. As such, there is overlap in many of the policy documents.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is a statutory body, established under the EPSEN Act. Its main functions are:
- Planning and co-ordinating the provision of education and support services to children with SEN, in conjunction with schools and the Health Service Executive
- Planning the implementation of the EPSEN Act
- Disseminating information on best practice concerning the education of children with SEN
- Providing information to parents in relation to the entitlements of children with SEN
- Assessing and reviewing resources required by children with SEN
- Ensuring that progress of students with SEN is monitored and reviewed
- Reviewing education provisions for adults with disabilities
- Advising educational institutions on best practice
- Consulting with voluntary bodies
- Advising the Minister for Education on matters relating to special education
- Conducting research and publishing findings.
The NCSE employs Special Educational Needs Organisers who are responsible for allocating additional teaching and other resources to support the SEN of children with disabilities at local level.
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is an executive agency of the Department of Education. NEPS provides psychological services to primary and post-primary schools, both state and private. NEPS processes applications for 'reasonable accommodation' in the State examination arrangements for children with disabilities. Students with specific learning disabilities may be able to gain an exemption from some of the usual educational requirements. For example, a student with dyslexia may gain an exemption from Irish and/or modern foreign language classes.
In line with the Guidelines for Post-Primary Schools: Supporting Students with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream School (DES, 2017), the Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational teaching needs to each school, based on that school's educational profile.
There are several Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for Irish teachers in inclusion and SEN. For further information please see the report An Overview of CPD Provision for Teachers in the area of Inclusion and Special Educational Needs (2016), written by Dr Carmel Duggan, commissioned by the National Council for Special Education.
Expenditure on special education has significantly grown in recent years. According to the National Reform Programme April 2019 (Department of the Taoiseach, 2019), the Department of Education spent over €1.75 billion on special educational provision in 2018, a 43% increase since 2011. This is almost 19% of the Department of Education’s total budget.
Provisions are available for special school transport for children with special needs, including escorts and safety harnesses are available for children with disabilities attending school.
Further information on special schools, the EPSEN Act and Specific Support Measures is contained in the Irish the national descriptions on the Eurydice website Chapter 12.1 Special Education Needs Provision within Mainstream Education.
The Equal Status Act, 2000 outlaws discrimination outside the workplace, including in certain aspects of education. The Schools and Equal Status Acts information booklet outlines the main features of the Equal Status Acts as they affect primary and second-level schools.
The Intercultural Education Strategy (2010-2015) (DES and the Office of the Minister for Integration, 2010) focused on enabling students to experience an education respectful of diversity while assisting education providers to ensure that integration becomes the norm within an intercultural learning environment.
The Migrant Integration Strategy: A Blueprint for the Future (Department of Justice and Equality, 2017) sets out a whole Government approach to the issue of migrant integration for the period from 2017 to 2020. It is targeted at all migrants, including refugees, who are legally residing in the State. It is also encompasses those who have become naturalised Irish citizens but who were born outside Ireland. The Strategy proposes several targeted initiatives to address particular migrant needs in education.
The Intercultural Education Strategy (2010-2015) ("IES") aimed to ensure that:
- all students experience an education that "respects the diversity of values, beliefs, languages and traditions in Irish society and is conducted in a spirit of partnership" (Education Act, Government of Ireland, 1998),
- all education providers are assisted with ensuring that inclusion and integration within an intercultural learning environment becomes normal practice.
The IES was developed in recognition of the recent significant demographic changes in Irish society, which are reflected in the education system. It is in line with the Department of Education’s high level goal to ‘support and improve the quality, relevance and inclusiveness of education for every learner in our schools’.
Resources for English-as-an-Additional Language are allocated as part of the special educational needs allocation model for schools. Students whose first language is not English can use dictionaries in second level state examinations.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) issued Guidelines on Inter-Cultural Education in Second Level Schools (2005). The Guidelines aim to advise teachers on how to promote inter-culturalism across the curriculum and through classroom practice and to enable schools to identify ways in which intercultural education can be integrated into the curriculum and into broader school policy.
Teachers may opt to undertake Continuous Professional Development related to teaching in an intercultural context.
‘Educational disadvantage’ is defined in the Education Act, 1998 (Government of Ireland, 1998) as “[… ] the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools.”
Income-related grants for secondary school students are discussed in Chapter 6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET).
Financial supports for third level students include:
- The Student Grant Scheme: the main financial support scheme for students, established under the Student Support Act 2011 (Government of Ireland, 2011). Student grants are divided into:
- Maintenance grants: a contribution towards the student’s living costs.
- Fee grants: cover all/part of the student contribution (fee); costs of essential field trips; and/or tuition fees.
- Postgraduate contribution grant: financial assistance towards the cost of tuition fees for approved postgraduate courses
- Fund for students with disabilities
- Student Assistance Fund: for students who have started a third-level course and experience financial hardship which threatens their ability to continue their studies
- Tax relief is available for tuition fees paid to private third-level institutions, for institutions abroad and paid by repeat students and part-time students.
Further information is contained in the Irish national descriptions on the Eurydice website Chapter 12 on Support Measures for Learners in Higher Education and Support Measures for Learners in Adult Education and Training.
The Department of Education is responsible for the co-ordination of Traveller education. The Advisory Committee on Traveller Education published a Report and Recommendations for a Traveller Education Strategy in 2006. Many of the recommendations of the report have been included in mainstream strategies. A key objective of the report was the phasing out of segregated Traveller provision and the inclusion of Traveller children and young people in mainstream education. The Visiting Teacher Service for Travellers ceased in 2011 in line with Departmental policy on the mainstreaming of supports for all children including Travellers. Traveller children continue to be supported by the Child and Family Agency’s (Tusla’s) integrated Educational Welfare Service. The Department of Education continues to develop and implement traveller education policy under the National Traveller and ROMA Inclusion Strategy, published in 2017, which includes several education actions. An Action Plan to Promote Traveller Participation in Higher Education 2019-2021 (DES, 2019) sets out actions, which the Department will coordinate or deliver, to achieve targets for traveller education set out in the National Access Plan for Higher Education (DES and Higher Education Authority, 2015).
Information about early school leaving amongst the Traveller community is available in Chapter 6.1.
Information about a proposed bill to include Traveller culture and history in school curriculum is available in Chapter 6.10.
Social cohesion and equal opportunities
Social Inclusion Unit
The Social Inclusion Unit sits within the Department of Education and is responsible for developing and promoting a co-ordinated Department response to tackling educational disadvantage from pre-school to second-level education. The unit is responsible for:
- the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) Programme, discussed inChapter 6.1.
- co-ordination of Traveller Education
- High Support/Special Schools, Youth Encounter Projects (YEPS) and Children Detention Schools
- integration – Migrant Policy
- assignment within DEIS Schools of the Home School Community Liaison Co-ordinators, discussed in Chapter 6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET).
National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021
The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 (Department of Justice and Equality, 2017) takes a whole of Government approach to improving the lives of Travellers and Roma in Ireland in practical and tangible ways. There are 149 actions in the strategy covering the themes of Cultural Identity, Education, Employment and Traveller Economy, Children and Youth, Health, Gender Equality, Anti-discrimination and Equality, Public Services, Accommodation and Traveller and Roma Communities.
Key education-related actions proposed in the strategy include:
- Traveller and Roma women should be supported in key areas including education, employment and economic development
- The development of education resources on Traveller and Roma culture and history for use in primary, post primary and adult education settings
- Improved access, participation and outcomes for Travellers and Roma in education to achieve outcomes that are equal to those for the majority population
- SOLAS [the national Further Education and Training (FET) Authority] and the Education and Training Boards to consider the needs of disadvantaged groups including Travellers and Roma in the planning of FET provision
- Strengthening of cooperation between formal education and non-formal learning sectors to address the high rate of early school-leaving in the Traveller and Roma communities
- A positive culture of respect and protection for the cultural identity of Travellers and Roma across the education system.
LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 and Being LGBT in School
LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020 (Department of Children and Youth Affairs, 2018) is the first Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex (LGBTI+) National Youth Strategy in Ireland and the world. It has three strategic goals:
- Create a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment for LGBTI+ young people
- Improve the physical, mental, and sexual health of LGBTI+ young people
- Develop the research and data environment to better understand the lives of LGBTI+ young people.
Further detail is provided in Chapter 4.3 Strategy for the social inclusion of young people.
Being LGBT in School is a resource for post-primary schools to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and support LGBT students was developed by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) in 2016, with the support of the Department of Education, as part of the implementation of the Action Plan on Bullying (Anti-Bullying Working Group 2013).
The Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (DES, 2013, pp. 5) defines Bullying as ‘unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical, conducted by an individual or group against another person (or persons) and which is repeated over time [… including] cyber-bullying and identity-based bullying (such as homophobic bullying and racist bullying).’ Under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 (Government of Ireland, 2000) all schools are required to have a code of behaviour in place. Under the Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (DES, 2013) all Boards of Management are required to formally adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy.
An Anti-Bullying Working Group was established by the Department of Education and Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2012, to develop a plan to identify the priorities that need to be addressed to combat bullying in schools. Their 2013 report Action Plan on Bullying sets out twelve actions to help prevent and tackle bullying in primary and second level schools, including:
- A proposal to establish an Anti-Bullying Implementation Group
- The Department of Education to engage with book publishers who produce materials for schools to address the issue of stereotyping
- Development of a new National Framework for Anti-Bullying
- Research into how other countries investigate procedures in other jurisdictions
- Encourage social media and telecommunications companies and internet service providers to continue to raise awareness of cyber bullying and how it can be dealt with.
Several providers run anti-bullying programmes in schools. The Cool School programme is an Anti-Bullying initiative for Post-Primary schools developed within the Health Service Executive Dublin North East's Child Psychiatric Service. It is an Anti-Bullying programme and support service tailored to the Irish context. A Multi-disciplinary team is engaged in this work, comprising a Consultant Psychiatrist, a Principal Social Worker, a Research Psychologist, two teachers on full-time secondment, a therapist and a computer assessment developer.
Other anti-bullying school initiatives include teaching resources, discipline plans, student and teacher training, parent meetings and improved playground supervision.
Teachers can specialise in citizenship education and there are also CPD options for teachers in citizenship education. However, citizenship education is not specified in top-level curricula, either as a cross-curricular theme, or under a compulsory integrated or separate approach, in Ireland at upper secondary level. The Eurydice Citizenship Education at School in Europe – 2017 report contains further information on citizenship education.
The Anti-Bullying Centre
The National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre (ABC) is a university-designated research centre located in Dublin City University’s (DCU’s) Institute of Education. ABC studies the multi-factored causes of bullying and translates its findings into resources and training to tackle bullying. ABCs activities are supported by the Department of Education under the Action Plan on Bullying (Anti-Bullying Working Group, 2013); the EU Erasmus+ Framework Program for Education, Training, Youth and Sport; DCU Research and Innovation Unit; Enterprise Ireland; the Irish Research Council, the Fulbright Commission; the Ireland Canada University Foundation’ DCU Institute of Education; the Health Services Executive and the European Commission.
Further information on social cohesion is available in the Eurydice report on Eurydice Citizenship Education at School in Europe – 2017.