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Accessing Supports in School  

Accessing Supports in School


Glossary of Terms in Education Sector


AON – Assessment of Need SEN – Special Educational Needs
BOM – Board of Management SENCo – Special Education Needs Co-Ordinator
DES – Department of Education & Skills SENO – Special Education Needs Organiser
EBD – Emotional/Behavioural Disturbance SET – Special Education Teacher
GLD – General Learning Disability SLD – Specific Learning Disability
IEP – Individual Education Plan SLT – Speech & Language Therapist
NBSS – National Behaviour Support Service SNA – Special Needs Assistant
NCSE – National Council for Special Education SSLD – Specific Speech & Language Disorder
NEPS – National Education Psychological Service SSP / F – Student Support Plan / File
OT – Occupational Therapist  


The following is an outline of supports which may be available to a student in primary and post-primary school. Availability of resources and supports will differ from school to school, depending on the collective needs of the students in each school.


Autism Class

A classroom within a mainstream school can be set up to teach a small group of students who have a diagnosis of autism. This is known as an autism class. The number of students in an autism class is usually quite small, so that the teaching and support staff can attend effectively to their needs. 

Autism classes can be set up in both primary and post-primary schools, where the need is apparent. The needs of the students attending an autism class will vary greatly from one child to the next. For example, one student may need to spend the majority of their day in the autism class, learning from a curriculum that has been specifically tailored to meet their needs. Whereas another student may need to be in the autism class for a short period each day and can participate effectively in the mainstream curriculum once they have access to this support. 

It is important to note that all students availing of a school place in an autism class are entitled to dual enrolment, regardless of their needs. This means they will have access to a seat in the autism class and a seat in the mainstream class every day.



Irish Language Exemption

A new process for applying for an Irish language exemption will be in place from September 2020. Although a diagnosis/psychological assessment is no longer necessary to apply for an exemption, an autism diagnosis alone is not sufficient.

To qualify for an exemption under the new legislation, a child must be 12 years old and receiving their education in a mainstream English-medium school.  Children who are enrolled in a special school or a special class on a full-time basis will not need to apply for an Irish exemption as they will already qualify.

Applications for Irish exemptions are now made to the school principal, who will base their decision on whether learning Irish is causing the child undue difficulties with their language development. The principal will need evidence of this from the child’s parents/ guardians and all staff involved in the child’s education.

An exception may be made for children who experience significant learning disabilities – in which case the criteria set out is that they must: 


  • Have reached at least 2nd Class level;
  • have completed standardised tests in literacy and numeracy, and;
  • have scored below the 10th percentile in both.



For further information on this new model, please see the following DES webpage: https://www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/


July Provision

*The July Provision programme may have a different structure in summer 2020, due to the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency. We will endeavour to update this text as new information is published by the DES. Below is a description of the typical July Provision Programme.


The July Provision is a scheme provided by the DES which funds an extended school year for autistic students and / or those with a profound GLD.  

Both primary and post-primary schools may qualify for school-based July Provision if they are a special school or have a special class / autism class onsite. If granted, the programme will be delivered in the school by a qualified teacher(s) for an additional month in July of each year. Where school-based provision is not feasible, 40 hours of home-based provision may be granted which will be delivered by a qualified teacher in the child’s home. A child will not qualify for home-based provision if the school they are enrolled in provides a July Provision programme. Applications can be made for home-based July Provision on the DES website:




Psychological Assessments

There are a number of pathways for obtaining a psychological assessment for a child between the ages of 6 – 18 years.


Assessment of Need (AON)

An Assessment of Need is a statement specifying that a child has a set of needs as specified under the Disability Act 2005. It is not a diagnosis of any particular condition. The AON may recommend further assessment to be carried out after a period of intervention. Times will vary depending on the capacity of local services. An AON must be obtained through a licensed practitioner, such as a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. An AON can be applied for by the parent/guardian at a Local Health Centre or online at hse.ie. The school may act as a support for the parent during the application process. Please find further information about applying for an AON here: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/4/disability/disability-assessment/


National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Assessment

This type of assessment is completed by an educational psychologist assigned to the school by NEPS. With the permission of the parents/guardians, the school principal will apply for this assessment on behalf of the student if they feel that the student may have additional educational needs which need to be identified. This assessment will take place during the school day, usually onsite in the school. Each school only receives an allocated number of assessments per year, meaning that schools are tasked with prioritising pupils for these assessments. Once a student has been assessed by a NEPS psychologist, a follow up meeting will take place between the principal, SET, class teacher, parent and psychologist to explain the outcome of the report and discuss interventions which can be put in place to support the student’s development. Please find further information about the work of NEPS here: https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Services/National-Educational-Psychological-Service-NEPS-/NEPS-Home-Page.html


Public / Private Assessments

Both public and private assessments are organised by agencies outside of the student’s school. However, it is vitally important that the school receives a copy of the assessment report generated by the professional involved, so that they may apply for resources/supports on behalf of the student.



Scheme of Reasonable Accommodations Certificate Exams (RACE)

Pupils who have an autism diagnosis and/or other disabilities are eligible for the RACE Scheme to assist them in sitting state exams. Through this scheme, the pupil may have access to various supports, such as: 


  • Voice-activated computers
  • Tape recorders or scribes to assist independent writing
  • Assistive technology
  • A reader to assist independent reading
  • Separate exam centres


Also, the student may be exempt from aural aspects of an examination if they are deaf or have hearing difficulties. All schools have a responsibility to make special provisions for students with SEN to assist them in sitting state exams. Such provisions could include:


  • Taking medicine, food or drinks into the examination centre
  • Use of a special desk or chair that is used in the classroom
  • Granting breaks or rest periods in each examination session


To learn more about reasonable accommodations, please visit the State Examination webpage below: https://www.examinations.ie/?l=en&mc=ca&sc=ra



School Transport

A child with SEN is eligible for the School Transport Scheme which is funded by the DES. They may avail of this scheme once they are attending their nearest recognised special school or special class in a mainstream school. An application form for school transport can be downloaded at the link below and must be reviewed and signed by the school principal and the local SENO. It will then be sent to the School Transport Section of the DES and the final decision on granting access to the scheme will be made.


Support Providers


Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo)

Many post-primary schools and some primary schools will have a member of staff who takes on the role of the SENCo. This teacher is responsible for leading the SET team, over-seeing the delivery of support to all students receiving additional support in school and is often the point of contact in the school for parents/guardians of these students. If you are unsure whether your child’s school has a SENCo or are unsure which member of staff works in this role, contact the school principal for further information.


Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO)

A SENO works for the NCSE, undertaking the role of processing applications for additional supports for pupils with SEN. Each SENO is allocated to a fixed number of primary and post-primary schools within a geographical area. They will advise schools and parents on what constitutes an appropriate school place for a particular student and give information on local special schools and autism classes. They will also act as a support to parents/guardians who feel that mainstream schooling may not be appropriate for their child. Please read more about the role of the SENO on the NCSE website: https://ncse.ie/seno-support-service



Special Needs Assistant (SNA)

*The process for SNA application and allocation is currently going through a transformative period. We will endeavour to update this text as new information is published by the DES.

A new model for SNA allocation (‘The Frontloaded Allocation Model’) had been planned to commence in September 2020. However, due to the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency, this has been postponed. The DES have decided that mainstream class SNA allocations which apply currently in schools will roll over into the next academic year 2020/2021. For further information please see the DES website and related Circular 0030/2020. https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Services/SNA-Allocations/sna-allocations.html


In order for a student to qualify for SNA support, they must display significant care needs which require additional support. Examples of significant care needs may include:


  • Assistance with feeding 
  • Toileting
  • General hygiene
  • Mobility, orientation
  • Withdrawal for safety or personal care
  • Severe communication difficulties
  • Administration of medicines
  • Additional supervision



The student must also have a diagnosis of disability under one or more of the following categories:


  • Physical disability
  • Hearing / visual impairment
  • Emotional / behavioural disturbance
  • General learning disability
  • Specific learning disability
  • Specific speech and language disorder



If access to an SNA is granted, their role will be to support the child’s individual primary care needs as outlined above. Secondary care needs may then arise which also require support, including: 

  • Preparing and tidying workspaces
  • Assisting with cleaning of materials
  • Assisting in the development of the student support plan or IEP
  • Assisting access to therapy or psycho-educational programmes
  • Assisting the child in attending school events where such individual assistance cannot be provided by the teacher


More specific support may be required in the instances of visual or hearing impairments and/or behavioural needs. The role of the SNA remains unchanged and is further outlined in Circular 0030/2014 on the SNA Scheme from the DES. https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0030_2014.pdf

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