Establishment of special classes in post-primary schools

Colette commissioned the Oireachtas Library & Research Service to examine the setting-up of special classes in mainstream post-primary schools, particularly for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Generally, special classes are intended to cater exclusively for students with special educational needs (SEN) and most special classes admit only students from a specific category of need. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) is responsible for processing applications from primary and post-primary schools for SEN, including the establishment of special classes as required.

Although no official guidance exists, special classes can be set up in two ways:

  • The SENOs working directly with schools, local HSE personnel and the DES can identify unmet need and/or emerging demand for special classes with designation of the class following the need identified.
  • Special classes can be established through schools which proactively apply to the local SENO for a special class.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 provides that children are to be educated in an inclusive setting unless this would not be in the best interests of the child or the effective provision of education for other children in mainstream education. This Act also specifies that the NCSE should ensure that a “continuum of special needs provision is available as required in relation to each type of disability”.
However, the NSCE does not enforce the establishment of special classes and there is no legislative requirement on schools to provide special classes in mainstream schools. The NCSE have expressed disappointment that some mainstream schools have restrictive practices which effectively exclude students with ASD – even from special classes – unless they are able to follow academic programmes and be included in mainstream classes for at least a part of the week. A 2015 NCSE policy report recommended that the NCSE should be equipped with the necessary authority to instruct a school to open a special class when they deem it necessary.

Read the paper in full here.