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Education | Availability of special needs teachers and classes

To ask the Minister for Education the extent to which special needs classes and special needs teachers continue to be available in all schools through the country given the need to ensure a universal right to education for those children requiring special teaching; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education is a priority for this Government.  

This year, my Department will spend in excess of €2 Billion, or over 25% of the Department’s budget on providing a wide range of schemes and supports for children with special educational needs. This represents an increase of over 60% in total expenditure since 2011, at which point €1.247 Billion per annum was provided.

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

– In integrated settings in mainstream classes.

– In special classes attached to ordinary schools

– In special schools

The nature and level of the educational response is based on the professionally-assessed needs of each individual child.  The Department’s policy is to achieve as much integration as possible and also to take account of the views of the parents. Where placement in an integrated setting is considered to be the appropriate response, provision will normally take the form of additional special education teaching support or special needs assistant support, or both, depending on the level of need involved. Most children are educated in mainstream class settings alongside their peers with additional teaching and care supports.

While the Department’s policy is to ensure the maximum possible support and integration of children with special needs into ordinary mainstream schools, students who have been assessed as having special educational needs have access to a different placement options depending on the level of complexity of need in each case.  These include placement in a special class in mainstream school or placement in a special school which cater for specific disability groups.  Pupils attending special classes or special schools benefit from significantly reduced pupil teacher ratios; enhanced care and other supports and special school transport arrangements.  Increased funding is provided to these schools.  

Special Education Teachers (SETs)

Mainstream schools now have discretion to provide additional teaching support to those pupils who require it from within their overall allocation for special education teaching support, based on the identified learning needs of those pupils.  A formal diagnosis of a disability or special education need is not required.

13,765 Special Education Teaching (SET) posts currently exist within mainstream primary and post primary schools. This enables schools to provide additional teaching support for all pupils who require such support and to deploy resources based on each pupil’s individual learning needs. It gives flexibility to schools in deploying their resources.  They can take account of the actual learning needs of pupils rather than being guided primarily by a particular diagnosis of disability. The Department has published guidelines for schools as to how they should deploy their resources.  Budget 2022 provides for an additional 620 new SET posts in special education.  This will bring the total number of SET in the mainstream school system to 14,385 in 2022.

Special Classes

Special Classes to support children with significant special educational needs are substantially smaller than mainstream classes and have a pupil teacher ratio as low as 6:1 and will have SNAs assigned to look after the pupil care needs.   For example, special classes for children with autism have one teacher and two SNAs for 6 children.

The number of special classes in mainstream schools has increased from 548 in 2011, to 2,118 for the 2021/2022 school year. There are now 1,854 special classes for children with Autism in place: 133 Early Intervention, 1,205 primary and 516 post primary autism special classes. Budget 2022 provided for the creation of 287 additional special classes for the 2022/2023 school year. These additional classes will provide over 1,700 new places in 2022.

Overall, there are almost 12,700 pupils enrolled in special classes in mainstream primary and post primary schools representing approximately 1% of the overall pupil population.

Special Schools

Special schools have lower class sizes and will also have SNAs assigned.  They cater for particular categories of disability.  There are 126 special schools providing specialist education for approximately 8,000 pupils annually with over 1,400 teachers. This represents approximately 0.8% of the total pupil population.

Budget 2022 provided for an additional 23 teaching posts and 46 SNA posts in special schools which will create an additional 140 class places.

This will provide specialist education to in excess of 8,000 pupils in 2022.

The allocation of resources to all schools is available on the NCSE website at the following link and SET Hours and SNA Allocations – National Council for Special Education (

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