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Special Needs Education

Provision for pupils with Special Educational Needs

The Department of Education and Skills (DES) provides for the education of children with special education needs through a number of support mechanisms depending on the child’s assessed disability.

Section 2 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 requires that:

“A child with special educational needs shall be educated in an inclusive environment with children who do not have such needs unless the nature or degree of those needs of the child is such that to do so would be inconsistent with:

  • The best interests of the child as determined in accordance with any assessment carried out under this Act
  •  The effective provision of education for children with whom the child is to be educated.”

In general, educational provision for children with special needs is made:

  • In special schools;
  • In special classes attached to ordinary schools;
  • In integrated settings in mainstream classes.

The nature and level of the educational response is based on the child’s professionally-assessed disability.  The Department’s policy is to achieve as much integration as possible, as envisaged in Section 2 of the EPSEN Act. Where placement in an integrated setting is considered to be the appropriate response, provision will normally take the form of resource teaching or special needs assistant support, or both, depending on the pupil’s assessed level of need.

While the DES’ policy is to ensure the maximum possible integration of children with special needs into ordinary mainstream schools, students who have been assessed as having special educational needs have access to a range of special support services.  The services range from special schools dedicated to particular disability groups, through special classes/units attached to ordinary schools, to placement on an integrated basis in ordinary schools with supports.

Children with more severe levels of disability may require placement in a special school or special class attached to a mainstream primary school.  Each such facility is dedicated to a particular disability group and each operates at a specially reduced pupil teacher ratio.


How do special education students benefit from technology?

Technology can be the great equalizer in a classroom with diverse learners. Whereas teachers can find it difficult to differentiate instruction for 30+ students in one class, all with different needs and abilities, “assistive technology” (devices and software to assist students with disabilities) can often help teachers personalize lessons and skills enhancement to each child. Children with learning disabilities often have better technology skills than their teachers and are drawn to computers and other gadgets, so using them in the classroom makes perfect sense. For children with physical disabilities, technology can give access to learning opportunities previously closed to them. E-readers help students turn book pages without applying dexterity, and voice adaptive software can help students answer questions without needing to write. Computers are engaging and more advanced than the typical modified lesson allows. The widely-used teacher education textbook Educating Exceptional Children has a special section in each chapter focused on assistive technology explaining how it is used with exceptionalities ranging from giftedness to autism.

Assistive technology is not always just for students with disabilities; it can be used to help any student with motivation, academic skills, and social development.

Most students with disabilities can and do benefit from technology in the classroom. Incorporating technology increases students’ motivation to learn and personalizes lessons to a student’s individual needs. Even the students with the most severe and profound disabilities can use assistive technology to join a classroom of typical students, and their potential can be reached in ways we didn’t have before.

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