19 November, 2019 - Minister McHugh welcomes progress report from National Council for Special Education (NCSE) on Policy Advice on Special Schools and Special Classes

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. today (Tuesday 19th November) welcomed the NCSE’s progress report on the development of Policy Advice on Special Schools and Special Classes.

The NCSE progress report provides information on the agency’s work to date on special education policy, including some preliminary analysis of emerging findings from the consultation and research strands, which underpins NCSE policy advice. The policy advice is due to be completed for submission to the Minister by June 2020.

Welcoming the NCSE publication of this report, the Minister said: “The report shows the NCSE have done substantial work on this most important issue.

“The NCSE has also ensured that the views of children, their parents and representatives and other stakeholders have been listened to.

“It is essential that we continue to provide opportunities for the voices of children, parents and others to be heard.”

The Minister welcomed the NCSE’s planned public consultation with parents, students, people with disabilities, teachers, educational partners and stakeholders.

Minister McHugh said: “This Government is continuing the huge increase in investment in special education. It is unprecedented. Special education is an ongoing priority. By next year we’ve funding for 1,886 special classes, 13,620 special education teachers and 17,014 Special Needs Assistants.

“All of this investment is to try and ensure that children are educated in an inclusive setting as far as practicable. Each child should be educated with their peers in mainstream wherever feasible and this is very much reflected in what the NCSE has stated in this progress report.”

On the initial findings of the NCSE report, the Minister said: “Any decision about whether to move towards greater inclusion of all students in mainstream requires very careful consideration.

“This is a long term vision and it is important to say that if any change is to be made it will have to happen gradually and by putting the needs of children with the most complex needs at the heart of this.”

The Minister also noted the NCSE’s examination of the implications of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in order to ensure the way forward, which will be recommended in the policy advice, is in the best interests of all children and their needs.

The Minister looks forward to further engagement with the NCSE as part of its public consultation as outlined in the progress report and indicated that he has asked that the final policy advice report be submitted to him by June 2020.

The Minister also noted the NCSE reference to Section 62 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 which prohibits schools from taking a child’s academic ability, skills or aptitude into account when deciding on enrolment applications.

The Department is consulting with education partners in relation to the preparation of regulations that are required alongside commencement of this section of the act ahead of applications for enrolment for the 2021/22 school year.

Notes for the Editor


In September 2018, the NCSE was requested to develop policy advice on the educational provision that should be in place for students educated in special schools and classes and to make recommendations on the provision required to enable them achieve better outcomes. The report was undertaken at the request of the previous Minister.

It was agreed that the report will be completed and submitted to the Minister by June 2020.

The NCSE was also requested to provide a progress report by end September 2019.

The NCSE has now submitted the progress report, which summarises NCSE’s progress to date in preparing its advice by setting out:

  • Emerging findings from a preliminary analysis of information from the consultation and research strands of the review.  
  • Steps towards completing the policy advice for submission to Minister by June 2020.

The following outlines work completed on Policy Advice by NCSE to date:

  • Engaged in consultation with 30 different stakeholder groups to discuss their views and identify their concerns. Those consulted included parents, students, schools, advocacy groups, Government officials.


  • NCSE Council members visited 19 Irish schools including special schools, mainstream primary and post primary schools with and without special classes.


  • NCSE Council members have fully discussed the policy advice at its meetings and invited a number of expert presentations to inform these discussions. This included three invited experts from New Brunswick, Canada who presented to Council on how the change to a more inclusive education system was effected in their province.


  • Currently undertaking an analysis of national and international literature (2000 – 2019) on the impact of specialist provision and /or inclusion on the education of students, with and without disabilities, examining specialist provision for students with special educational needs across different jurisdictions and considering the evaluation of ASD special classes recently completed by the department’s inspectorate.


  • The NCSE is consulting with the National Disability Authority (NDA) regarding what a design for an inclusive school should look like; what changes to the current school design would be necessary to reach this standard; and what modifications to existing school buildings might be possible to make them more inclusive.


  • NCSE is also examining, as part of the Policy Advice, the significant implications following ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2018, Article 24(2) of this convention obliges States, inter alia, to ensure that children can access an inclusive, quality and free education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live. The UN Committee overseeing implementation is interpreting inclusive education as educating all children together within their local school and have having a continuum of provision, i.e. mainstream schools, special classes and special schools, is not compatible with Article 24. Ireland is due to submit its first report to the UN in 2020.


  • Two NCSE staff members visited five schools in New Brunswick, Canada, to see how an education system, without special schools or special classes, support students with special educational needs.


  • Senior officials from NCSE and the Department recently conducted a study visit to Portugal to see that Country's progress in moving towards full compliance with the UNCRDP. 

A link to the NCSE report is available here: https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Progress-Report-Policy-Advice-on-Special-Schools-Classes-website-upload.pdf