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Last updateSun, 06 Nov 2016 10am

Back You are here: Home Entitlements Entitlements Education Special Education

Special Education for People with Disabilities

The Irish State is obliged to ensure that all children (children means people under the age of 18) receive a minimum education. This includes people with disabilities and special needs. Children with special educational needs have the right to free primary education up to age 18. You can find out more about the legislation underpinning the provision of education to people with special educational needs in `Educational Disadvantage and the Law` and you can find out more about the State`s obligations in `The Constitution and education in Ireland`

This document describes the various measures and programmes that address the educational needs of children with special needs at both primary and post-primary level. It also describes the organisations that support these services.

The broad aims of special needs education are:

    To make sure that education takes place in an inclusive environment. The policy of the Department of Education is to provide integrated education whenever possible
    To make sure that children with special needs leave school with the skills they need to participate in society and to live independent and fulfilled lives
    To make sure that parents are involved in decisions about the education of their children.

Special schools and special classes for children with special needs

A child with special educational needs at both primary and secondary level has three main options:
Education in mainstream schools

Many children with disabilities or special needs are in ordinary classes in mainstream schools and there are learning support and resource teachers available to help these children. Special needs assistants may also be allocated to mainstream schools. (You can read more about learning support and resource teachers under ‘Delivery of Special needs education’ below.)

Special classes in mainstream schools

Some children attend special classes in mainstream schools. These classes generally have low teacher-pupil ratios.

Special schools
There are over 107 special schools catering for particular types of disability and special needs. You can find a list of special schools and schools with special classes on theDepartment of Education’s website.Students with specific leaning disabilities may be able to get an exemption from some of the usual educational requirements. For example, if you have dyslexia you may be exempt from the requirement to study Irish and/or a continental language. Under the Educationfor Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal Education Plan.This system is not yet in place but its implementation is being co-ordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has published Guidelines for the Individual Education Plan process

Special transport arrangements, including escorts and safety harnesses are available for children with disabilities attending school.
Pupil-Teacher Ratios

The pupil-teacher ratios (PTR) in special schools and special classes are lower than in mainstream schools. The maximum pupil-teacher ratio is 11:1 and is often lower.
Disability    Current pupil-teacher-ratio
Physical Disability    10:1
Hearing impairment    7:1
Visual Impairment    8:1
Emotional Disturbance and/or Behavioural Problems    8:1
Severe Emotional
Disturbance    6:1
Borderline/Mild General Learning Disability    11:1
Moderate General Learning Disability    8:1
Severe/Profound General Learning Disability    6:1
Autism/Autistic Spectrum Disorders    6:1
Specific Learning Disability    9:1
Specific Speech and Language Disorder    7:1
Multiple Disabilities    6:1
Organisationaand Statutory bodies with a role in Special Needs Education

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE)

The National Council for Special Education took over certain functions from the Department of Education and Science in January 2005. Its functions are:

    to carry out research and give expert advice to the Minister for Education on the educational and service needs of children with disabilities and special educational needs
    provide services at both national and local level to identify and provide for the educational needs of these children. The NCSE will co-operate with health authorities and schools to make sure that children with special educational needs have access to education and related support services using a network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs).

It will have more functions when the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 is brought fully into effect.

Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) are responsible for delivering services at local level. Currently (April 2005) 71 SENOs have taken up their posts around the country. SENOs are the point of contact for parents/guardians and schools. They will process applications for children with low incidence disabilities with special educational needs at both secondary and primary level.(Low incidence disabilities include physical disability, visual and /or hearing impairment, (severe) emotional disturbance, moderate to severe/profound general learning disability, autism, specific speech and language disorder, assessed syndrome in conjunction with the low incidence disabilities already mentioned and multiple disabilities).

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is the statutory body that advises on the curriculum and syllabus requirements of students with disabilities or with special educational needs. At present official guidelines for teachers of students with general learning disabilities are being complied and should be released in 2005.

The Special Education Support Service (SESS)

In September 2003, the Department established the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to manage, co-ordinate and develop a range of supports in response to the identified training needs of teachers. The SESS, which is hosted in Laois Education Centre, provides a nationwide service to teachers and special needs assistants. As part of its response to the growing demand from teachers for support and training, the SESS is currently developing teams of trainers to deliver training in four specific areas: Autism, Challenging Behaviour, Dyslexia and Inclusion. This training will be delivered locally through the Education Centre network.
Assessment of children with special educational needs

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS)

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is an executive agency of the Department of Education and Science. NEPS provides psychological services to primary and post-primary schools, both state and private.
Delivery of Special Needs Education at Primary Level

Learning Support Teachers
A learning support teacher service is generally available to all primary schools and the Department of Education has produced ‘Learning Support Guidelines’ explaining the aims and activities of learning support programmes in Irish schools. These include the procedures for identifying and selecting children who might be having difficulty with the curriculum and who need supplemental teaching. Learning support teachers provide this extra teaching. Further psychological assessment does not occur until the learning support teacher and the class teacher have tried to address the child’s problems.Children who continue to have difficulty coping with the curriculum can be psychologically assessed by the National Educational Psychological Service and may be eligible for resource teacher support

Resource Teachers

Resource teachers provide a service for pupils with low incidence disabilities (see above for definition of low incidence disabilities). Some work in individual schools, others deal with students in school clusters. There are over 2,600 resource teachers working in Ireland at present. They can teach children individually in a separate room or in the main classroom. They can also team-teach in the classroom along with the class teacher where this is appropriate for the children. They can also help the classroom teacher with adapting the curriculum, using special textbooks or software and other strategies to support the children with special educational needs.

Visiting teacher service

The Visiting teacher service provides a teaching and support service to parents and schools for pupils who have difficulties resulting from Hearing Difficulties or Visual Impairment.

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) work with children who need extra non-teaching support perhaps because of a physical disability or behaviouraldifficulties. SNAs may be approved to support pupils who have a significantmedical need for such assistance. This might include a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour makes them a danger to themselves or other pupils. Pupils’ needs could range from needing an assistant for a short period each week, for example, to help feed or change the pupil(s) or bring them to the toilet, to requiring a full-time assistant.

SNAs may work with more than one child and can also work on a part-time basis depending on the needs of the school.
Other supports

Home tuition

Home tuition can be provided for children who cannot go to school because of a serious medical problem or for children who are waiting for a suitable school place. Children with autistic spectrum disorders or with severe learning disabilities who have specific needs may also be given home tuition during the month of July.


The Department of Education and Science recognises that children with autism have distinct educational needs. There are now 141 special classes for children with autism. Each class has a PTR of 6:1 and has 2 special needs assistants. In addition 10 pre-school classes for children with autism have been set up.
How to apply

Previously schools applied to the Department of Education for resource teachers or for special needs assistants. Since 1 March 2005 the National Council for Special Education administers and processes applications for special educational resources using its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs). Therefore, the schools apply directly to the SENO for Special Educational Needs supports.
Where to apply

National Council for Special Education
Mill Street,
Co. Meath
Tel: (046) 9486400

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA)
24 Merrion Square,
Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 7008200
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Special Education Section
Department of Education and Science
Cornamaddy Athlone,
Co. Westmeath
Tel: (090) 648 3754/6/9

The Special Education Support Service (SESS)
c/o Laois Education Centre,
Block Road,
Co. Laois.
Tel: (057) 867 2402
Tel: (057) 867 2409
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.