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The most important voice in education policy is children.

Throughout the last few weeks, children have been speaking up and sharing their experience of a system desperately letting them down. The message from children is loud and clear. They are telling the Department of Education over and over again that they are not being supported appropriately in school. They are not getting the same opportunity to access the curriculum as their peers. Children as young as five are having their wellbeing and prospects for the future shattered.  They wait months and years to get support, and sometimes that support comes too late for them, leaving children and their parents to live with the lasting consequences of the system’s inadequacies and inaction.

And yet, the concerns of children and families are simply not being listened to by the Department of Education.

Inclusion Ireland, AsIAm and Down Syndrome Ireland are deeply, deeply concerned by this.

On behalf of children – Inclusion Ireland, AsIAm and Down Syndrome Ireland – urgently request that the Department of Education acknowledge the real concerns of children and respond properly to their very real everyday lived experience of school.

Our children deserve to be listened to, acknowledged, respected, and to have their rights met at school.

We ask anyone reading this to please add your voice and power to support the voice of Autistic children and disabled children.

We are calling on the Department to urgently:

– Provide transparency on this issue by disclosing the budget it sought through the estimates process for the SET allocation model

– ⁠Publish accessible information about the changes to the allocation model which are clear and consistent for families

– ⁠Show confidence in its own model, and comply with basic good governance and good administration, by putting in place and publish a budget for the Exceptional Review Process and guaranteeing the independence of the process

– ⁠Provide a written framework document on how disability stakeholders will be consulted into the future, which demonstrate an understanding of the UNCRPD and the fundamental obligation to centrally consult disability stakeholders.

We are calling on all our members to make contact with their public representatives to seek assurances from Minister Madigan and Foley in this regard. Additionally, we encourage our community members to make their views known to all with a stake in the education system.


96% of parents fear the impact of Department of Education’s proposed changes to Special Education Teacher Allocation

  • AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland appear before Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education

5th March 2024: The country’s three leading disability advocacy organisations, AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland are today appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education at 11am to express the fears and concerns of parents of Autistic children and children with Down Syndrome and Intellectual Disabilities to recently announced changes by the Department of Education to the Special Education Teacher (SET) allocation model.

From September 2024, the funding allocation which schools receive will no longer be based on the number of children with identified complex needs enrolled in a school. Currently, this number accounts for 50% of the overall frontloaded allocation. The recently announced changes were made without any consultation with parents or disability stakeholders, in clear breach of Ireland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland have previously called for the Department to pause implementation of the new model so that meaningful consultation can take place with those most affected. The Committee will today hear calls for the re-instatement of complex educational needs into the allocation model, improved communication by the Department of Education and a robust, independent appeals process, open to families seeking to access SET hours. The lack of sufficient investment to meet the needs of children will also be highlighted to the committee.

In advance of today’s hearing, the organisations conducted a snap poll between Monday 26 February and Thursday 29th February with over 1,300 responses. The vast majority of respondents (85%) have a child currently receiving SET support in school.

The results highlight the impact of a lack of consultation and communication with families and fundamental concerns on the policy change. The survey found that:

  • 94% believed that any reduction in SET hours would impact their child’s ability to learn and participate in school.
  • 74% felt that they did not have a good understanding of the changes proposed by the Department.
  • 96% were concerned that the change would see their child’s school lose resources.

Parents were also given the opportunity to outline the basis and nature of their concerns, with a number of key themes emerging which include:

  • The current lack of sufficient resources in the education system prior to any proposed change
  • The potential impact of any reduction in support on individual children and schools
  • A lack of understanding of the experiences of children with complex needs.
  • The proposed changes would create new barriers to accessing mainstream education, including enrolment.
  • The impact for children with complex needs due to start national school in September.
  • The rationale applied by the Department for the proposed model, including the use of STEN (Literacy & Numeracy) scores to allocate resources

Many of these findings tally with concerns raised in a petition signed by more than 700 principals making up the National Principal’s Forum.

Speaking ahead of today’s hearing, Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm said “We welcome the extensive engagement we had with senior departmental officials yesterday in relation to their recently announced SET allocation model. However, AsIAm continues to have significant concerns about the changes, as reflected in the overwhelming response of our respective communities to the snap survey. The impact of the lack of meaningful consultation and effective communication on this issue cannot be underestimated. Critically, we are faced with a reality where the majority of our young people cannot access the support they require in school. As a result, they have vastly different school experiences to their neurotypical or non-disabled peers. We acknowledge the rise in resources in recent years but the impact is significantly diluted when it is considered against the backdrop of a vast increase in identified need within the classroom. We urgently need to see more investment together with a robust appeals process which provides transparency to families and avoids a blame game between the Department and schools. Put simply, we need to make the system work for children, not make our children fit into a broken system.”

Turlough Kelly, Communication and Advocacy Manager with Down Syndrome Ireland, said:

“This proposal has already caused acute concern and unease among many of our members. In the absence of any definitive public clarification from the Department on the exclusion of complex needs from the criteria, many parents fear that their children will not have access to the supports or the educational setting they need to thrive. The lack of consultation with those most affected has also caused a huge degree of uncertainty and anxiety”.

Derval McDonagh CEO of Inclusion Ireland states “We are deeply concerned by the disconnect from those in a position of power to the experience of disabled children in school today. 45% of children with support needs contend with a lack of appropriate supports at school, reduced timetables, emotionally based school avoidance, other distressing experiences, or they are not attending school at all.

From our recent survey, only 14% of disabled children are thriving in school in Ireland today. This statistic alone should make us stop and think. The experience that children have in school lasts a lifetime. We need a better system, one where every child is valued, belongs and gets the support they need. It is an investment in their lives and in their future.”


New survey says 35% of disabled children endure seclusion and 27% suffer restraint at school

  • “Children have a right to feel safe at school” – Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm urgently call for guidance and regulation in schools


Issued Wednesday 21st February, Inclusion Ireland and AsIAm today are urgently calling for guidance and regulation for schools concerning seclusion and restraint. The two organisations have teamed up with parent representatives to appeal to policymakers at Leinster House following the results of a new survey.

The survey shows that 35% of disabled children experience seclusion, while 27% of disabled children suffer restraint at school. Parents were asked if their child ever experienced seclusion, and/or mechanical, physical or chemical restraint in school.  Parents responded by sharing stark stories of children locked in rooms alone, sensory rooms being used inappropriately, children dragged across the school floor, children physically held and/or lifted against their will,  They also reported feeling powerless and fearing retribution and the removal of vital supports they have had to fight long and hard for.

CEO of Inclusion Ireland, Derval McDonagh said: “Children have a right to feel safe at school. What disabled children are enduring in schools today is hugely damaging and a violation of their rights. In many cases these children are desperately trying to advocate for themselves and are being told over and over again from very young that what they have to say doesn’t matter and who they are is wrong. Meanwhile parents share with us feeling powerless and facing persistent gaslighting. Not only is there no guidance for schools, there is no support for those who are guardians to these kids.”

She added: “These unacceptable practices reveal a chronic and often oblivious ableism, as well as a lack of training in some of our schools. Classmates are often witness to seclusion and restraint, learning that if you are different you are punished. This needs to end now. We will look back on this era with shame. But let’s at least today commit to preventing further scars. Our aim with this survey and tomorrow’s briefing is to continue to shine a light, with the hope of spurring on immediate action and a publication of guidance for schools which are rights based and child centred.”

CEO of AsIAm, Adam Harris said: “Today’s results are a deeply distressing snapshot of the worrying failures to safeguard and meet the rights of Autistic and neurodivergent children and young people within our education system. Whilst the findings are stark, they are sadly not surprising in the absence of a rigorous, child-centred, rights-based systems of training and regulation, not just in terms of seclusion and restraint, but in understanding and meeting the needs of Autistic and neurodivergent learners.

“The Department of Education has a statutory public sector duty to uphold human rights and yet we have waited since 2018 for promised guidelines on this issue. While we acknowledge this work is underway it is greatly overdue and we are concerned it will fall short of what is required. Day in, day out our organisations hear from families who have had alarming experiences in terms of seclusion and restraint within the classroom and a number of these cases have been the subject of various statutory investigations and processes and yet there has been a lack of urgency on this critical issue.

“The issue at hand is ultimately about child protection and yet we see families inappropriately passed from pillar to post through a Schools Complaints Procedures which has no relevance or place in matters pertaining to child protection, whether a child has a diagnosis of a disability or otherwise. It is a regrettable reality that wherever there are disabled people there is an increased risk of abuse – we have seen examples of this in Ireland, and across the world. Putting in place robust systems to safeguard young people is not about a blame game or a matter of trust, it’s about protecting everyone within our education system. Many of the young people in our school system who are most at risk of seclusion or restraint also attend HSE services in which much more comprehensive regulations on the use of restraint are in place – why are our young people given one set of protections in one statutory setting and little to none in another?

“We would urge Ministers Foley and Madigan to commit to comprehensive statutory regulations which prioritise the rights of children in our schools to be free from seclusion and inappropriate restraint. Ultimately though this is about a need for a wider cultural shift in which all learners have the same chance to communicate, self-regulate, learn and be accepted in every school in the country. This means a genuine shift towards changing the system and respecting, not changing, the individual.”

The survey which was completed by over 400 parents, included some harrowing stories:

“There was one particularly memorable occasion when my child’s (with Asperger’s) class (5th in primary school) were in the school hall practicing a school Christmas play. He attempted to leave the room abruptly without permission and was rugby tackled to the floor by the female teacher. She held him there for a while and shouted at him about how struggling was futile due to her superior strength.”

“My son experienced physical restraint in a mainstream school, was moved to an [autism] class to ‘help’ him. Then seclusion was used and he was dragged across a school floor into this ‘safe space’ (seclusion room) where he stripped naked multiple times due to distress. The door was held shut [by] multiple persons… An animal would not be treated this way.”

Another parent said: “My son was restrained and secluded on a numerous occasions in primary school, by teachers, SNA’s and sports coach’s. A teacher physically removed his hands from his ears twice when overstimulated with noise.”

“My daughter… was lifted by arms and legs by teacher and SNA into a sensory room and told she wasn’t allowed leave. She was bruised from this”, commented another parent.

A parent shared: “Hands were placed on my daughter to move her and away from me and compel her to go into the school building even though she was clearly verbalising refusal. When I questioned the intention, three staff members said that I was being aggressive and the principal later said ‘why would they not!’”

The survey builds on a 2018 report by Inclusion Ireland called ‘Shining a Light on Seclusion and Restraint’.


Notes to Editor

Mechanical restraint is the use of a device, equipment, or other tool for compelling, controlling, or subduing the bodily movements of the person to whom such mechanical restraint is administered.

Physical restraint is the use of direct physical contact by one or more persons for the purpose of compelling, controlling, preventing, or subduing the bodily movements of the person being restrained.

Chemical restraint is the use of substances as ingested, inhaled, or injected for the purpose of compelling, controlling, or subduing the behaviour of the person to whom the medication is administered, regardless of whether such substance has been medically prescribed for the treatment of formally diagnosed physical or mental illness.

Seclusion is defined as placing and keeping of a person alone in a room or other space from which they are unable to leave.

45% of children with support needs are being failed in accessing their right to education  

Release date: Sunday, 11th February 2024 


Department of Education removes vital resource while 45% of children with support needs are being failed in accessing their right to education  

  •  “We cannot do more with less” say the National Principals’ Forum  


45% of children with support needs are being failed by the educational system as they face multiple barriers to access their right to school. They either contend with a lack of appropriate supports at school, a reduced timetable, emotionally based school avoidance, other distressing experiences, or they are not attending school at all.  

Inclusion Ireland revealed the results today which it gathered following the Department of Education’s announcement on Thursday to remove ‘complex needs’ as a criterion for allocating Special Education Teacher hours. The National Principals’ Forum said they found the move by the Department “truly baffling”. 

CEO of Inclusion Ireland, Derval McDonagh said: “Sadly we are not surprised by the stark response. Disabled children have been facing barriers to access their right to education for some time. We expect our leaders to stand up and prioritise this with urgency, so we were deeply disturbed by the Department of Education’s announcement last Thursday to remove the criteria enabling access to the support of special education teachers for children with ‘complex needs’. For some five-year-olds starting primary school next September an already broken system has the potential to become even more inaccessible. This is shameful and an enormous breach to a child’s right to education. Inclusion Ireland has written to the Department of Education seeking an immediate meeting and clarification about these changes which have such potential serious consequences. It is regrettable that the Department did not include representative advocacy organisations in their deliberations about these changes as should be the norm.”  

Inclusion Ireland asked parents of children with a disability across Ireland how their child was doing at school at this halfway point in the school year. Out of 492 responses received, only 14% said that their child is thriving at school. 41% are having good days and bad days. 22% are lacking appropriate supports, 6% are on a reduced timetable, 4% are not attending due to lack of support, and 8% are experiencing emotionally based school avoidance. The remaining 5% fell under “Other” with one parent reporting that their child was experiencing “physical health problems related to anxiety”. Another parent shared that that their child was “struggling socially and emotionally” and “feeling left out”. A parent said: “I’m now registering him for home-schooling – I’m reluctant, but … I don’t feel I have another option”.  

The Department of Education issued a circular on the Special Education Teacher allocation model to primary schools last week stating, because of perceived inaccurate data, children with ‘complex needs’ have been removed from the criteria for resource allocation.  

The National Principals’ Forum said: “For many years, we have called for a mechanism to be devised by which we can inform the Department and National Council for Special Education (NCSE) yearly of the level of support needs in our schools, so that the resource allocations given to us by the NCSE can match the current level of need in our schools. The current lack of data, lack of assessment, lack of transparency and lack of accountability speaks to grievous systemic failures of children with support needs. Cuts to Special Education Teacher hours in our primary schools further undermines their opportunity to receive an equitable education in Ireland, despite the best efforts of educators across the country. We cannot do more with less.

“The impact of these cuts is manifold and has very serious consequences. We will have less capacity to meet the needs of our most vulnerable pupils. Many of us will lose valuable full-time teaching positions in our schools. All pupils learning experiences and outcomes will be impacted when less support is available in the school. Wellbeing for all will be heavily impacted when supports are cut and demands are high. 

The Department cited “over the last number of years with the very significant growth in special classes and the opening of new special schools, a significant number of pupils with more complex needs are now supported in these settings. These elements of the continuum of education provision are resourced separately to the Special Education Teacher model”.  

McDonagh said: “Inclusion Ireland is extremely concerned by this messaging from the top of the educational system. It suggests that children with ‘complex needs’ only belong in special schools and classes and not in their local schools. Let me be clear in saying that all children have a right to be supported to access their education at their local school with the correct supports. The Department’s advice would seem to undermine the long-awaited NCSE policy advice released only two weeks ago”.  

The policy paper – “An Inclusive education for an inclusive society” – recommends that it is now time to progressively bring about an education system in which all schools are resourced and equipped to educate all children in their local community, including children with special educational needs. 


Inclusion Ireland significantly concerned about the new Special Education Teacher allocation model

Inclusion Ireland has expressed significant concern about the new Special Education Teacher Allocation model (circular 0002/2024 Department of Education).

CEO of Inclusion Ireland, Derval McDonagh explained, “The criteria ‘complex needs’ has been completely removed for allocation of additional resources to a school. The rationale for removal of this criteria is of most concern:

  1. Perceived inaccurate/inconsistent data from the Children’s Disability Network teams leading to variations in allocations of teaching hours across the country. This rationale is deeply flawed. The solution to inaccurate data is to work towards making the data more accurate in partnership with the CDNT’s and ensuring consistency, NOT to remove the criteria.
  2. The growth of special schools and classes: The allocation model blatantly points out a discriminatory system where pupils who have more significant support needs are encouraged to avail of special schools and classes ‘a significant number of pupils with more complex needs are now supported in these settings, and these elements of the continuum of education provision are resourced separately to the SET model’. Inclusion Ireland have long advocated for real choice for children who have higher support needs to attend mainstream schools. This would seem to completely contradict the new policy advice from the National Council of Special Education, working towards more inclusive schools.”


She added: “All policy should be ‘rights’ proofed and child centred. The single biggest theme we find in all of our work is lack of trust. Children need to trust that they will be welcomed and accepted exactly as they are in their local school. Families need to trust their child will get the support they need. Schools need to trust that they will get the resources they need to support all children in their community. Today Inclusion Ireland will write to the Department of Education seeking a briefing on these significant changes and their implications on our obligation as a state under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Inclusion Ireland has previously raised concerns about the reallocation of Special Education Teachers when there are staffing concerns and pressures in a school. We need to resource and equip schools better so that all children can have an inclusive school experience.”


“No child should be excluded from inclusion”

Responding to the publication of ‘An Inclusive Education for an Inclusive Society’ this afternoon Derval McDonagh, CEO of Inclusion Ireland said: “We’re delighted to see a direction of travel for inclusive education but it is vital that no child is excluded; from those who require a small amount of support to access their rights to children who require intensive support and who have traditionally been left out of the “mainstream” conversation. Inclusive education includes children who are non-speaking, have medical needs and/or psychosocial disabilities.”

She added: “For too long children with intellectual disabilities have been forced to fit into narrow boxes – special classes, special schools or mainstream. We want to challenge that kind of thinking. It is not the child who should bend to suit the system and fit into available choices, rather the system should bend and flex to suit the child.”

Inclusion Ireland has been campaigning for inclusive education for many years. “We are delighted to see movement and progress with the launch of this paper and now we urge Ministers Foley and Madigan to launch an implementation plan. Unless there is step by step direction on how we’re going to get there over the next 10 years we’ll remain static. We need to put in place measures such as training, education, and resources to create this inclusive culture.”

She added: “We know that many of the complex barriers in education which exist today for children with a disability have arisen from societal attitudes. We must prioritise tackling this and creating a norm that a school supports all children from the local community regardless of support need. Real inclusion is a set of values, it is a set of beliefs; you belong here, we will support and accept you as you are, we will not give up on you. We need government, departments, organisations, schools, parents and communities to really get behind this vision for a time when all children get to go to school together.”

Earlier today the Minister for Education Norma Foley, T.D. and the Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan, T.D. welcomed the publication of the NCSE’s policy advice paper. The policy advice was requested in 2018 by the then Minister for Education and NCSE. The advice was requested in the context of Ireland’s ratification in 2018 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and on foot of significant growth in the number of special classes being opened in schools.


Editor’s notes: – Ministers Foley and Madigan welcome publication of NCSE policy advice paper – ‘An Inclusive Education for an Inclusive Society’ (

Focus Group Research to Review the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004

The Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, Ms Josepha Madigan has asked a group of researchers from the School of Education at University College Dublin to explore people’s experiences of the EPSEN Act, 2004. This will be done using focus group research.

The EPSEN Act, 2004 was introduced to ensure that children with special educational needs are supported in schools.

We want to hear about your experiences of the EPSEN Act, 2004.

You can read more in these invitation flyers.

EPSEN Invitation Flyer

EPSEN Invitation Flyer (As Gaeilge)

Please reach out directly to UCD at to express your interest in joining these focus groups.

Access to Your Community Event – Call for Submissions

The Inclusion Ireland Self-Advocacy Committee are holding an event for International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Monday the 4th of December.

The event is about access and inclusion for people with Intellectual Disabilities in the community.

It will be called Access to Your Community.

The event will be on Monday 4th December from 11am until 3pm at The Dargan Theatre in Trinity Business School in Dublin.

We would like to hear from you about what helps you to be part of a community and what are the barriers to being part of a community.

If you want to share your story you can write a story or poem, record a video or do a painting telling us your story.
A video should not be longer than 4 minutes.

We might show your piece at the event.

You can email your story or video to or send it by post to Inclusion Ireland Unit C2, The Steelworks, Foley Street, Dublin 1.

The closing date for sending your story to us is 14th November 2023.

You can access an Easy to Read document about the Call for Submissions here.

Inclusion Ireland urgently calls on Government to intervene and swiftly resolve dispute

Speaking about the impending strike action which will involve thousands of health and community workers, CEO Derval McDonagh said: “At the top of our mind are children and adults with a disability, particularly those who rely on support to access their rights and live a healthy life. We want the people supporting them to be paid fairly and equally so that vacancies are filled, turnover is tackled, and essential support is delivered to the thousands who require critical disability and mental health services.”

Inclusion Ireland met with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions yesterday to receive a briefing on the upcoming action.

“We will keep our members and supporters updated and we remain hopeful a resolution from Government will be found before next Tuesday. Government need to act now with the urgency this deserves.”

Inclusion Ireland works towards the full inclusion of people with an intellectual disability by supporting people to have their voices

For interview, please contact;

Lucinda Murrihy, Head of Communication on 086 824 8408.

Budget 2024: €12 increase in disability and carers allowance “a disturbing blow to human rights”

Inclusion Ireland has labelled the €12 increase in disability and carers allowance “a disturbing blow to human rights” for those with a disability. CEO, Derval McDonagh added that: “tokenistic once-off payments ignore the plight of exclusion and inequality that exists in Ireland today. Budget 2024 has abandoned disabled people living well below the poverty line, and marginalised carers already carrying the weight of broken systems”.

Inclusion Ireland has been campaigning for months for the disability allowance to match the poverty threshold of €291.50, and proposed a permanent cost of disability payment. “The marginal increase is far from what is required to prevent the many disabled citizens slipping into poverty. Many of our members consider a weekly food shop a luxury.

The Covid pandemic has highlighted the important role Ireland’s social protection system can play in protecting people from poverty. However, the considerable gap between the €350 Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the current rate of €232 for the disability allowance sends a clear signal that disabled people are not seen as equals to other Irish citizens.”

She added: “The cost of disability, coupled with an epic failure to provide therapeutic support is pushing many families into financial despair. These are depleted people with intellectual disabilities and their families fighting, hounding, begging to access the same opportunities as everyone else. Children with intellectual disabilities living their lives in poverty as their families fight daily battles to get access to the basic income and therapeutic support their child needs to live a full and healthy life”

Speaking about housing, Ms. McDonagh said: “We heard an announcement of ’90 additional residential places’. We know that there are thousands of people living in institutions or who are living at home with family carers who need to move into a home of their own. This is urgent and a necessary human rights imperative. Sadly we only see a sticking plaster today.

“Budget 2024 has delivered a disturbing blow to the very people who face a never-ending daily cycle of pleading for their rights to be met. What will it take for Government to listen?”

Inclusion Ireland works towards the full inclusion of people with an intellectual disability by supporting people to have their voices heard and advocating for rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.