Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs

Legislation for Special Educational Needs

The policy of the Department of Education and Science in relation to students with special educational needs – SEN students – recognises the need for a continuum of provision ranging from full-time enrolment in mainstream classes in mainstream schools to enrolment in special schools. The Education Act, 1998 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 provide the legislative framework for the education of children and young persons with special educational needs. The EPSEN Act defines the latter as follows:

‘‘special educational needs means, in relation to a person, a restriction in the capacity of the person to participate in and benefit from  education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability, or any other condition which results in a person  learning differently from a person without that condition."

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) was established under EPSEN with overall responsibility to assist schools to plan and deliver support services for SEN students. Click here to access the NCSE website.

Individual Education Plan

While there is not yet a statutory requirement to provide Individual Education Plans- IEPs-for SEN students, schools are required to have in place an appropriate curriculum and supports to ensure that the needs of SEN students are being met. It is the norm that such interventions are documented in a student plan.  The NCSE published a guide to individual education planning in 2006; see here to access the report.  

In 2014, the National Educational Psychological Service published an online resource for individual education plans. The Student Support File aims to simplify the planning process and can be used for a range of student profiles, including learning support, special educational need and behaviour management. The File is modelled on the guidelines issued by NEPS, “A Continuum of Support for Post-Primary Schools”. Click here for NEPS.  


Support Services for Students with Special Educational Needs

There are a number of support services to assist schools, teachers, students and parents. Increasingly, the emphasis in Department policy is moving away from a static definition of disability or special educational need to a more holistic approach which recognises that a young person may have a range of needs which will, with targeted interventions over time, ameliorate or change. Accordingly, there is overlap in many of the policy documents. The most important support services are:

National Council for Special The NCSE has responsibility for allocating resources to schools to meet the students’ special educational needs. Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) interact with parent and schools in providing resources such as additional teacher support/resource teachers, Special Needs Assistants, assistive technology, school transport, speech and language services, other health services. It also engages in research to provide advice to the Minister.  

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) supports the personal, social and educational development of all children through the application of psychological theory and practice in education. The service is organised on a regional basis with psychologists being assigned to a group of schools. Psychologists work with teachers, parents and children in identifying educational needs. Where an individual assessment is required, it will only be carried out with the written consent of the parents or guardians. Psychologists provide oral and written feedback to both parents/guardians and teachers. A psychological service is also provided to all schools in the event of a critical incident. See more here.  


The Special Education Support Service – SESS - co-ordinates, develops and delivers a range of professional development initiatives and support structures for school personnel working with students with special educational needs in mainstream primary and post-primary schools, special schools and special classes.


Special Needs and Examinations/Scheme of Reasonable Accommodations

The State  Examinations Commission operates a Scheme of Reasonable Accommodations for candidates with special needs – or other specific individual circumstances such as hospitalisation -  in the certificate examinations. For more information click here.

Special Needs Assistants

Student who have special care needs may be allocated a Special Needs Assistant. Their role is confined to that of meeting the special care needs of individual students or groups of student. See Appendix 1 of Circular letter SNA 12/05.