Special needs education: post-primary

Students with special educational needs

Students with special educational needs may be in ordinary classes in mainstream post-primary schools or in special classes in these schools or in special schools. They may get help from special education teachers and care support from special needs assistants (SNAs).

Mainstream schools

Post-primary students with special educational needs may attend a mainstream post-primary school. They may be in mainstream classes with the support of a special education teacher and/or the care support of a special needs assistant or may be in a special class.

A school may apply for a grant to make the school accessible for a student with a disability, for example, to put in a ramp or accessible toilet accommodation. Information about this provision can be obtained from the Building Unit of the Department of Education – see 'How to apply' below.

The following support services are available for students with disabilities and special educational needs attending post-primary schools:

Special education teachers

Special education teachers provide extra teaching assistance.

Schools are provided with the necessary resources in advance so that students with special educational needs can be enrolled into schools and access additional supports. You can find further information in the Department of Education’s Circular 0013/2017 and Circular 0003/2024. This enables a school to be inclusive and put in place additional teaching support for students who need it.

The Department of Education provides information for parents and guardians on how your child can get additional teaching support in school (pdf).

If you have concerns with the level of support being given to your child you should discuss this first with your child’s class teacher or special education teacher. You could also discuss these issues with the school principal and if necessary at a later point if you continue to have concerns with the Chairperson of your Board of Management.

The allocation of special education teachers are being provided on the basis that no child will be refused enrolment on the grounds that school does not have sufficient teaching resources to meet that child’s needs. If your child is refused enrolment to a school you may appeal this decision to a Section 29 Appeal Committee.

Special needs assistants

Special needs assistants (SNAs) are allocated to schools to work with students who have specific care needs. They provide non-teaching care support. SNAs support students who have care needs resulting from a disability, behavioural difficulties or a significant medical issue.

You can find further information on arrangements for the allocation of SNAs in 2023-2024.

Special schools

There are special schools throughout the country for students with more complex needs. These schools provide education for students from 4 to 18 years who have complex special education needs where a mainstream school would not be in the student's best interests. Some special schools may provide for students in their area with a broader range of needs.

In addition, there are post-primary schools for visually impaired and hearing impaired students in Dublin. These schools cater for both day students and boarders. There are a small number of schools for students with physical disabilities and a small number of special schools for students who have behavioural and emotional difficulties.

Students usually take the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations.

The schools make provision for students whose level of disability would make it very difficult for them to benefit from the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate programmes. In some schools for students with mild learning disabilities, students may be offered the opportunity to take part in the Junior Cycle curriculum.

State examinations

Students with specific disabilities may be exempt from part of the examination in a particular subject. In such cases, the certificates awarded may note that the student has not sat an element of the examination. The annotation is made where a core area of a subject is not assessed, or where the mode of assessment used has the same effect. For example, hearing impaired students may be exempt from the aural component of the examination. The certificate would note that all elements of the subject were examined except the aural element. Similarly, students with dyslexia may have spelling and grammar waivers in language subjects and their certificates would note this.

The Equality Tribunal ruled in 2006 that this annotation was contrary to the Equality Acts. On appeal, the Circuit Court found that the system of exemption and related notation is a reasonable accommodation in the context of the Equal Status legislation, and in June 2010 the High Court confirmed this finding. This decision has since been appealed to the Supreme Court.

There are arrangements in place for reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities sitting examinations.

Assessment of education needs

The Disability Act 2005 provides for an Assessment of Need to identify your child's health needs and what health services are needed to meet these needs. It is an assessment carried out by the HSE for children or young people with a disability.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) must nominate a person to carry out an assessment of education needs on behalf of the HSE when an Assessment of Need is in process. Find out more about the Assessment of Need for children or young people with a disability.

Irish Sign Language (ISL) scheme

The Irish Sign Language (ISL) scheme is for children who are Deaf and are attending primary school, post-primary school or special school and whose main means of communication is using Irish Sign Language. Children must be attending a recognised school.

The National Council for Special Education Needs (NCSE) manages the scheme which provides:

  • An ISL Specialist Classroom Support (ISL-SCS) for individual students to help access teaching and learning.
  • An ISL Advisor who can provide training and support for schools and staff to communicate using ISL

The first phase supports children attending mainstream school. You apply through your child’s school for the ISL Scheme. The school applies to the NCSE.

Find out more about how to qualify for the ISL Scheme.

Nursing supports to attend school

Home Tuition Scheme

The Home Tuition Scheme provides funding to parents to provide education at home for children who (for a number of reasons, such as chronic illness) are unable to attend school. The scheme is also available to children with special educational needs who are awaiting a suitable educational placement

Pilot project for young school leavers with disabilities

Since 2022, the NCSE is overseeing a 2-year pilot project to help students aged 16 with intellectual disabilities and complex educational needs to plan for their future options when leaving school. The pilot runs in selected schools in Dublin and Galway.

Further education and training

The National Council for Special Education has published a guide to post school education and training (pdf) which provides information on the options available to school leavers with disabilities.

How to apply for special educational supports

If your child has special educational needs you should talk to the school principal about what learning supports are available in the school. If you need advice about a post-primary school which could meet your child's needs you should contact your local Special Educational Needs Organiser - see 'Where to apply' below.

Schools should contact the Building Unit of the Department of Education and Skills for information about making schools accessible. Call the main Department telephone number for assistance - see 'Where to apply'.

Schools should contact the National Council for Special Education (NSCE) which administers and processes applications for special educational resources using its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) - see 'Where to apply'.

Where to get special educational advice

National Council for Special Education

1-2 Mill Street

Tel: (046) 948 6400
Fax: (046) 948 6404

Department of Education

Marlborough Street
Dublin 1
D01 RC96

Tel: (01) 889 6400
Page edited: 19 December 2023