Key education rights for disabled children, legislated for in the EPSEN Act 2004, have not been brought into effect after 17 years, according to Inclusion Ireland – the National Association for People with an Intellectual Disability.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Education Committee tomorrow, Inclusion Ireland will outline how the right to an education assessment of needs, the development of an individual education plan (IEP) based on assessment, the delivery of the education supports detailed in the plan, and an independent appeal process, all legislated for in 2004, have still not been commenced.

Speaking ahead of the Committee appearance, Lorraine Dempsey, interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said: “When the EPSEN Act was passed in 2004 as a central pillar of the National Disability Strategy it was seen as ground-breaking in putting inclusive education on a statutory footing and providing for children to have their education needs assessed and met.

“The EPSEN Act not only promises educational equality, but also a legal obligation to deliver that education in mainstream settings where possible. 17 years after the Act has been passed the main pieces of the Act that benefit disabled children have yet to be commenced.

“In short, this means a child with a special education need does not have a legal right to an assessment of their education needs and have these identified needs addressed through an Inclusive Education Plan. Parents have no legal right to have an input into the IEP.

“Because the Act has not been implemented, children’s rights are at the whim of policy makers, changes in government, funding priorities and other factors. This needs to change, and the EPSEN Act fully commenced. We look forward to engaging with the Committee on these important issues.”

Inclusion Ireland made a number of recommendations to the Committee in their submission document, including:

  • Review and commence the EPSEN Act.
  • Put forward a multi-annual, fully costed plan for moving towards an inclusive education model of education.
  • Invest in teaching and special needs assistant resources. Class sizes need to get below 20 pupils at a minimum.
  • Ensure initial teacher training has a more robust inclusive education component and that all current teachers without continuous professional development in special education are freed up to complete mandatory training on this subject.
  • Schools must be supported by fully resourced mental health and disability teams.
  • Schools must be fully accessible physically, include sensory spaces and be designed with sensory processing in mind.
  • Engage all stakeholders in the process of developing an inclusive model to include families, educators, therapists, pupils, etc.
  • Launch a campaign to address many of the negative attitudes that exist around disability in Ireland as a sizable minority of the population does not see mainstream schools as the place for disabled children.

Inclusion Ireland’s submission to the Committee can be found here.

Watch Margaret Turley speak at the Committee below.

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