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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.6 Social inclusion through education and training

Last update: 22 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 25/10/2020 - 23:13

On this page
  1. Educational support
  2. Social cohesion and equal opportunities

Educational support

Schools, colleges and universities must all operate within the legislative provisions regarding equality and non-discrimination. See the section on ‘Social cohesion and equal opportunities’ for further details.

Certain categories of children and young people are targeted for additional support to help to compensate for additional barriers to full participation which they may face. These groups include:

Special educational needs and learning difficulties and/or disabilities

There is a presumption in favour of mainstream education for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities.Learning opportunities within the requirements of the Northern Ireland Curriculum can be adapted or modified as necessary to provide all young people with relevant and challenging work appropriate to their needs. Under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, all grant-aided (publicly funded) schools must devise a personal learning plan for every pupil with SEN.

Schools must appoint a member of staff as a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO). The SENCO is a member of staff who has responsibility for coordinating special educational needs provision.Students with SEN may remain in school beyond the end of compulsory schooling at 16. Those who leave to attend further education colleges are covered by provisions for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (SLDD).

Access arrangements allow students with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access assessments/examinations. Such arrangements and ‘reasonable adjustments’ aim to allow candidates to demonstrate what they can do without changing the demands of the assessment. Examples of access arrangements include readers, scribes and Braille question papers.

For higher education students who have extra expenses as a direct result of a disability, support is provided through Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA). Allowances may cover:

  • non-medical help for students requiring non-medical personal assistance e.g. readers for blind students or sign-language interpreters for deaf students
  • specialist equipment
  • general expenses arising from attendance at the course
  • extra travel costs arising from the disability.

As well as financial help, practical help is also available e.g course materials in Braille, a helper to take notes, etc.

Further information:

Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments 2018-2019 2017-2018 (Joint Council for Qualifications, 2018)

Managing Reasonable Adjustments in Higher Education (Equality challenge Unit, 2010).

Looked after children

Looked after children are those in the care of a public authority, specifically a Health and Social Care Trust. Looked after children must have a personal education plan, setting out targets and actions to respond to their needs and providing a record of their achievements

Newcomer pupils

The term ‘newcomer’ pupil is used to refer to a pupil whose home language is not English or Irish and who may require support in school for this reason.

The Intercultural Education Service (IES) is a regional service for Northern Ireland, delivered by the Education Authority and which was formed in 2017 through the amalgamation of the Inclusion and Diversity Service and the Traveller Education Support Service.The newcomer provision section offers emergency and ongoing support for schools, including training for staff on intercultural awareness, assessment and planning and curriculum access, online courses for teachers and interpreting and translation services.

Further information is available on the Department of Education’s website.

Traveller Children

The Traveller Education Support Service (TESS) became part of the Intercultural Education Service funded by the Education Authority in 2017. It provides advice, guidance and focused support to schools and to parents and pupils from the Traveller community.

Widening participation in higher education

The Northern Ireland Executive’s strategy for widening participation in higher education, Access to Success 2012, has as its aim to increase the participation of those who are the most capable, but also the least likely to enter higher education.In the strategy, the Executive’s objective is stated to be:

To improve access to higher education across all sectors in Northern Ireland by promoting the relevance of higher education to all individuals with the capacity to benefit, and increasing the number and effectiveness of widening participation initiatives and activities. Ideally the end result should be that every potential applicant, across every sector of society, should be able to:

  • identify the relevance, and potential benefits, of higher education to develop the higher level skills increasingly required to benefit from future employment opportunities
  • have an equal opportunity to access higher education based on their ability to benefit and to succeed
  • access the required support to overcome any personal or social disadvantage that might prevent them from completing the higher education programme that is right for them.

The strategy has a focus on disadvantaged and disabled people. Included in the groups which were underrepresented in higher education were young Protestant males from areas of high deprivation.

The Executive has encouraged Northern Ireland’s higher education institutions (HEIs) to produce their own widening participation strategies and action plans which detail their activities and widening access targets. The Executive has supported their implementation with an increase in its grant funding. Widening Access and Participation Plans (WAPPs) were introduced in 2013 and are an amalgamation of two earlier types of access and participation plan. WAPPs provide:

  • a summary of the institution’s widening participation strategy
  • observations on the institution’s past achievement against regional benchmarks
  • a detailed programme of anticipated progress each year towards the institution’s own target
  • specific actions and targets for improving representation from each under-represented group in the coming year.

Further information is available on the Department for Economy’s website.

Advance HE (formerly the Equality Challenge Unit) works to remove barriers to further education. It provides a central resource of advice and guidance for the sector. Advance HE is a registered charity whose charitable objective is to support strategic change and continuous improvement through the development of individuals and organisations of higher education.  


There are several funding streams aimed at helping to overcome barriers to participation faced by particular groups.The additional costs faced by schools in educating children from socially deprived backgrounds is recognised through the ‘Social Deprivation’ element of the Common Funding Scheme (CFS) for funding schools. The measure used to determine social deprivation is entitlement to free school meals.

Additional funding allocations to schools are also made for:

  • pupils designated as being of the Traveller Community, including Roma children
  • looked after children
  • ‘newcomer’ pupils, for three years after first being recorded as such.

For pupils at school with a Statement of Special Educational Need, the costs associated with their requirements are met by the Education Authority.

For learners at a further education college with a learning disability and/or disability (SLDD), technical and personal support is provided by the college, funded through the Additional Support Fund (ASF). According to a departmental circular, ‘the key objective of the ASF is to widen access and increase participation of SLDD in FE provision’. Technical support may include specialised enabling equipment, such as braillers, specialist software and hearing loops. Personal support may include specialist tutors/advisers, such as hearing or visual impairment tutors, interpreters, classroom assistants and note takers.

For a small number of top-performing students from low-income households, assistance can be provided through the All Ireland Scholarship Awards,.  This scholarship helps towards costs of undergraduate degree programmes, with €1,500 being paid in October and then €750 monthly per seven months following.

The Education Authority Youth Service is running an inclusion scheme 2019-20. The Inclusion Scheme enables EA Youth Service and registered groups access to funds to engage young people who would not regularly participate in Youth Programmes. Primary focus is given to projects with the following target groups/communities of interest:

  • Young people with special educational needs or disabilities
  • Young people who are newcomers or have English as an additional language
  • Young people in care
  • Young carers and young parents
  • Young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
  • Young people from the Traveller Community

The 2019-20 scheme is now closed.


Social cohesion and equal opportunities


Equality legislation

Schools in Northern Ireland have a responsibility not to discriminate against pupils on the protected grounds of:

  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • race
  • disability.

The law does not apply to age, religious belief and political opinion and gender reassignment in schools. Further and higher education institutions in Northern Ireland have a responsibility not to discriminate against students on the grounds of:

  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • race
  • religious belief and political opinion
  • age
  • disability.

The law does not apply to gender reassignment in further and higher education.

Vocational training providers have a responsibility not to discriminate against their trainees on the grounds of:

  • sex/pregnancy and maternity/marital and civil partnership status/gender reassignment
  • sexual orientation
  • race/colour/nationality/ethnic or national origins
  • religious belief and political opinion
  • age
  • disability.

The legal framework is different to that which applies in England, Scotland and Wales, where the Equality Act 2010 brought together and harmonised equality legislation. 

Shared education

Given Northern Ireland’s history, fostering understanding between the two main religious divisions which exist between Catholic and Protestant communities is a particular focus and is facilitated through the shared education policy for schools.

The Shared Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 defines shared education as follows:

Shared education means the education together of those of different religious belief, including reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic children or young persons; and those who are experiencing socio-economic deprivation and those who are not, which is secured by the working together and co-operation of two or more relevant providers.

The Act is underpinned by the policy document Sharing Works, which describes shared education as promoting ‘equality of opportunity, good relations, equality of identity, respect for diversity and community cohesion’.The Act placed a duty on the Department for Education and the Education Authority to ‘encourage, facilitate and promote’ shared education. The Department of Education already had a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, which provided an alternative to education on largely religiously separated lines. Through shared education, however, schools of all management types, including integrated schools, are encouraged and facilitated to provide further opportunities for the education together of children and young people.

The Peace IV Programme, an EU programme which supports peace and reconciliation in the Border Region of Ireland and Northern Ireland, provides funding to support further the development of shared education in schools that have not yet engaged in it, as well as across youth work settings.

Community Relations, Equality and Diversity policy

The Department for Education’s Community Relations, Equality and Diversity (CRED) in Education policy was launched in 2011 with objectives to:

  • ensure that learners, at each stage of their development, have an understanding of and respect for the rights, equality and diversity of all without discrimination
  • educate children and young people to live and participate in the changing world, so that they value and respect difference and engage positively with it, taking account of the ongoing intercommunity divisions arising from conflict and increasing diversity within our society
  • equip children and young people with the skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to develop mutual understanding and recognition of, and respect for, difference.

It applies to learners in both formal and non formal education settings. Following a review, an addendum to the CRED policy was published in September 2016. See the section ‘Main themes’ in the article on Youth Policy Decision-Making for more information on the CRED policy.

School curriculum

At Key Stage 4 (age 14 to 16), the statutory requirements of the Northern Ireland curriculum include the area of learning 'Learning for Life and Work’.  Among the requirements of the Local and Global Citizenship element of this area of learning are that students should be enabled to:

  • respond to the specific challenges and opportunities which diversity and inclusion present in Northern Ireland and the wider world
  • develop their understanding of the role of society and government in safeguarding individual and collective rights in order to promote equality and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly
  • develop awareness of key democratic institutions and their role in promoting inclusion, justice and democracy.