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. 


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