This article is an introduction to special education in Irish secondary schools. The past ten years have witnessed a change in special education provision in Ireland. The Department of Education and Science has issued numerous directives and guidelines in relation to policy, provision, structure and supports. Since 1998, there have been ten pieces of legislation passed through the Dail that relate in one way or another to children and special education needs.
The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has been established along with the Special Education Support Service (SESS). Both these organisations oversee and coordinate all special education initiatives nationwide. Ireland’s primary schools have pioneered these new directives. Special education provision at primary level is developing at a rapid pace and great strides are being made. The next horizon for improvement is secondary school.
Ireland’s secondary schools are driven by an exam-oriented curriculum. Subject area specialists teach all of the curricular content. The supports available to children with special needs are not extensive or as tested as those at primary level. In what follows we will look at the needs and entitlements of children entering secondary school who have identified special education needs and those who are entering and later discovered to have a special education need.
What should I look for in a secondary school?You should look for a school with a special education teacher in place on a full-time basis to support all children with special needs in the school. It is important to also be sure the school has a commitment to supporting and educating children with special needs. The school should have on its staff teachers who have had some training in how to differentiate their methodology and curriculum for children with special needs. There should be an accepting attitude on the part of all staff. Remember, your child is entitled to enter fully into the life of the school and avail of all it has to offer. How do you find out these things? Talk to the school principal and ask questions about the topics listed above. Remember, your child may be eligible for special consideration at the time of Junior Cert and Leaving Cert but this will have to be determined about a year before these exams will be taken.
Your child will be entitled to the same general provision he or she received in primary school. Typically this takes the form of specialist teaching from a Learning Support or Special Education Resource teacher (both are now often being referred to simply as Special Education teachers. This support is to be determined based on need with the number of hours of support being determined by the Individual Education Plan (IEP) drawn up in the last year of primary school. In addition to the IEP there should have been a Transition Plan completed during the last year of primary school The Transition Plan will devise the structure of transition to secondary school and may alter the IEP for a short period of time. If this happens there should be a team meeting in about six months or less to write the secondary school IEP. In general students in secondary school are eligible for the same supports as in primary school. This may include a Special Needs Assistant (SNA).
If these labels stick and no thought or concern raised about a possible learning difficulty being present the student can become trapped in a cycle of failure and rejection by teachers. The result could be early school leaving, behaviour difficulties to hide the learning problem, lowered self-esteem, loss of self-confidence and trouble at home. It is important to recognise that some students, no matter how well they performed in primary school, may have a special education need that doesn’t appear until secondary school.
Refusal to go to school
Problems with written language expression
Difficulty organising thoughts into speech
Inability to recall facts from yesterday’s lesson even if they seemed retained the night before
Unusual spelling problems
Unusual difficulty with more advanced mathematical problems
Pronounced difficulty in foreign language class
Behavioural difficulties not present in primary school
Mood swings or sudden mood changes that last several hours
Reluctance to engage with parents about school difficulties
Source: David Carey Psychologist, Visit Davids Website