Government must adequately support special education

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh has stated that, within the next two years, he intends to prohibit schools from asking parents who wish to enrol a pupil whether their child has special educational needs.

Once again, the Minister has put the cart before the horse, unilaterally announcing a major policy change without any consultation with teachers who will ultimately bear the brunt of this ill-conceived approach.

Without sufficient resources schools simply can’t deliver inclusive education, which our members overwhelmingly support. INTO fully supports inclusion which works, where schools are properly resourced with appropriate accommodation, staffing, professional development training and services such as the psychological service and other therapeutic provisions for pupils. Where these basic resources are not made available real inclusion is an impossibility. If schools are unable to ascertain the needs of a particular pupil, they will be unable to ensure adequate provision is put in place for that pupil.

The Department of Education and Skills has a long history of abject neglect when it comes to delivering special education. Primary schools have routinely, without adequate resources and with ever dwindling access to services, delivered inclusive education for thousands of pupils with special needs. At every turn, this department has erected barriers to full inclusion, including:

  • A failure to commence many provisions within the EPSEN Act.
  • A failure to deliver adequate resources to implement the provisions of the EPSEN Act which have already been commenced.
  • The removal of hundreds of ‘English as an additional language’ (EAL) teaching posts.
  • The removal of resource teachers and visiting teachers for children of the travelling community.
  • Cuts to resource teaching hours for children with special educational needs.
  • A significant under resourcing of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
  • A dearth of therapeutic services for children.
  • A lack of appropriate accommodation for special classes.
  • Ireland has the largest primary class sizes in the Eurozone.
  • The removal of assistant principal posts, many of which were used to coordinate special education provision.
  • A failure to develop special schools to cater for needs of pupils with complex needs.
  • Cuts to individual care supports for children with special educational needs, with pupils now receiving only shared access to SNAs.
  • The removal of qualification allowances and substitute cover incentives for teachers to seek extra qualifications in special education and the failure to provide whole staff training for inclusion.

Responding to the Minister’s comments, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

“It is the right of every parent to enrol their child in a local school that can cater for their children’s needs. Children with additional needs require intensive supports, nurturing and wrap around care in primary schools. Until such time as the department gets serious about supporting diversity, the rights of children who need the most help in our schools will not be vindicated. In the absence of appropriate supports, their parents will see little point in sharing information with local schools, because they will know that these schools will be unable to give their children their entitlement to an appropriate education.”


“INTO seeks an urgent meeting with the Minister to secure assurances that meaningful consultation will take place and that necessary resources will be provided before any change to enrolment policy takes place.”