e-Book on School Terms

In navigating the education system, as a parent or autistic student, you will encounter many new terms and acronyms. In this section we have broken them down in one place. This may be a useful page to print and refer to as you interact with the education system:

What is the Access and Inclusion Model?

The Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) is a model of supports designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme.  Its goal is to empower pre-school providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that every eligible child can meaningfully participate in the ECCE Programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education.

AIM is a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school service. For many children, the universal supports offered under the model will be sufficient.  For others, one particular discrete support may be required to enable participation in the ECCE Programme, such as access to a piece of specialised equipment.  For a small number, a suite of different services and supports may be necessary.  In other words, the model is designed to be responsive to the needs of each individual child in the context of their pre-school setting.  It offers tailored, practical supports based on need and does not require a formal diagnosis of disability.

What is a Board of Management?

Under the Education Act 1998, the patron of the school must, where practicable, appoint a board of management. This is ‘for the purposes of ensuring that a recognised school is managed in a spirit of partnership’.

The board’s main function is to manage the school on behalf of the patron and for the benefit of the students and to provide an appropriate education for each student at the school. The board is accountable to the patron and the Minister for Education. The school principal is responsible for the day-to-day management of the school and is accountable to the board.

In carrying out its functions, the board must

  • Follow the Ministerial policies
  • Support the ethos of the school and be accountable to the patron for this
  • Comply with the law and with any deed, charter, or similar instrument relating to the school.
  • Consult with and inform the patron of decisions and proposals
  • Publish the school’s admissions and participation policies, including its policy on expulsion and suspension of students and the admission and participation by students with disabilities or with special educational needs
  • Ensure that the school’s admissions policy respects parents’ choices and the principles of equality, complies with Ministerial directions and considers the school ethos and the constitutional rights of al involved
  • Comply with the school’s admissions policy in line with the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. The Act aims to make the rules around admissions to schools more structured, fair and transparent.
  • Regularly consider the teaching and learning in the school and ensure appropriate targets are set
  • Ensure a School Self-Evaluation Report and School Improvement Plan is prepared each year and share a summary of the plan with the whole school community annually
  • Observe the principles and requirements of a democratic society and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in our society
  • Make efficient use of resources (particularly the grants provided by the State)
  • Consider the public interest in the affairs of the school and be accountable to students, parents and the community
  • Use the resources provided by the State to help meet the needs of students with disabilities or special needs, including, if necessary, the adaptation of buildings or provision of special equipment
  • Recognise the leadership roles of principals, deputy principals and assistant principals in the school as part of the goal to achieving high quality outcomes for students

Accessing Supports

Every school in the country gets the same level of support. Schools are allocated resources based on their school profile. Schools are allocated resources based on their figures from the previous year including the number of children with additional needs as well as the total number of students. Every school will receive a reasonable amount of supports but can apply for additional supports if they feel they are not allocated enough in order to support their students such as additional special classes. While each school is provided with supports based on their profile, ultimately the supports available in a school comes down to the management or the school as well as the special needs training of the school staff.

Based on the continuum of support, the student with the greatest level of need will receive the greatest level of support. Resources are allocated amongst students where possible and appropriate in order to maintain student engagement in learning. Resources will be provided to students based on their personal needs, their diagnosis and on their IEP. The school has a bank of resources that must be divided up amongst all the children who require additional support. For example, a school might be allocated with 5 SET specifically to support those students with additional needs in the school. 2 of those teachers might be allocated to the 2 specific autistic classes whereas the other 3 teachers are divided amongst the rest of the school. Resources need to be allocated based on a needs basis which unfortunately means that every child might not always get as much support as they need. 

What is the Department of Education and Skills?

The Department of Education is a department of the Irish state with responsibility for education and training. The mission of the Department is to facilitate individuals through learning, to achieve their full potential and contribute to Ireland’s social, cultural and economic development. This includes advancing the progress of learners with special educational needs.

What is an Emotional/Behavioral Disturbance?

EBD is an umbrella term used in education settings to describe behavioral issues likely to disrupt a child’s learning which extend beyond standard rule-breaking and discipline. It is not an individual diagnosis. These behaviours vary in their cause, such as ADHD or a childhood psychosis. Autistic students may be labelled with EBD due to signs of distress or anxiety caused by the environment but mistaken for poor attention or self-regulation.

Characteristics and behaviours associated with emotional disturbance and/or behavioural problems (According to SESS) may include: aggressive or anti-social behaviour; inattentiveness; distractibility and impulsiveness; impaired social interactions; a general inability to cope with the routine of daily tasks; obsessive and repetitive behaviours; attention-seeking behaviours such as negative interactions or a poor attitude towards work, peers or teachers; and depressed behaviours such as withdrawal, anxiety and mood swings. 

What is the Early Child Care and Education Programme?

The ECCE programme is a universal two-year pre-school programme available to all children within the eligible age range.

It provides children with their first formal experience of early learning prior to commencing primary school. The programme is provided for three hours per day, five days per week over 38 weeks per year and the programme year runs from September to June each year.

The programme is available to all children from the September after the child has turned 2 years and 8 months. For more information click here.

What is an Early Years Practioner?

Early childhood practitioners are teachers which specialize in the learning, developmental, social, and physical needs of young children. These educators provide a safe and comfortable environment in which young children can learn not just early academics, but social, motor, and adaptive skills. Educators working with students in early childhood specialize in childhood learning and developmental health. Educators will also provide opportunities and activities for structured and unstructured play. Children’s behavior and development are discussed regularly with parents. Early years practitioners are crucial as may often be the first professionals to spot autistic traits in a child before diagnosis.

What is a General Learning Disability?

A general learning disability can range from borderline mild, mild, moderate, to severe/profound. Children with general learning disabilities find it more difficult to learn, understand and do things than other children of the same age. They can continue to learn and to make progress all through their lives but at a slower pace than other children. A child with borderline mild or mild general learning disability has very different learning abilities and needs than a child with a moderate or a profound learning disability.

 They may have difficulties with speech and language, developing concepts, and later have difficulty with reading, writing, numeracy and comprehension. They may find it difficult to adapt to school life or show signs of inappropriate or what might be considered immature behaviour.  Children with moderate general learning disabilities show significant delays in reaching developmental milestones, such as walking, talking, reading, writing and so on. The school curriculum will need to be adapted to meet their learning needs. 

Is Autism a General Learning Disability?

While there is some overlap between the two, especially in terms of milestones, autism is not considered a general learning disability. However, it is important to note the two are not mutually exclusive and some children may be autistic with a co-occurring GLD

What is a General Practioner?

A general practitioner, or GP, is a doctor who works from a private surgery of health board premised, rather than a hospital.

If a GP believes that a patient requires more specialist attention or care, the GP will arrange for them to be referred to the appropriate health professional. In this way, GPs act as “gatekeepers” to the wider health system, such as hospitals and specialist clinics.

What is the HSE?

The Health Service Executive is a large organisation of over 100,000 people, whose job is to run all of public health services in Ireland.

What is an Individual Education Plan?

An IEP is an individualised education plan. Sometimes the term SSP may be used, which stands for student support plan. The IEP is a plan that is developed by parents and educators who are knowledgeable about your child’s needs. Essentially, the IEP is like a list of your child’s strengths and challenges and how the school plans to support this. Autistic children will often learn in very different ways to neurotypical children. The IEP is led by the child’s strengths and learning needs and is developed in collaboration with them, their parents, teachers, special needs assistant (if there is SNA support allocated to the child) and any other professionals who may be involved, such as a psychologist or speech and language therapist. The year head or coordinator, the class tutor, the subject teachers, the special needs coordinator and SNAs will all work together based on the IEP to support the child’s learning. The IEP ensures that all members of staff in the school are on the same page when it comes to your child and the support that they need. The IEP is about collaboration, sharing strategies that work well for the student. Sometimes a child might be exempt from certain subjects due to their diagnosis such as Irish or a foreign language. An IEP may also remove some subjects such as religion or SPHE and replace these with resource hours for the student where they can receive additional support in subjects they might find difficult.

What is the National Behaviour Support Service?

The National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) was established by the Department of Education & Skills in 2006 in response to the recommendation in School Matters: The Report of the Task Force on Student Behaviour in Second Level Schools (2006)The role of the NBSS is to assist partner schools in addressing current behavioural concerns on a school-wide and individualised level.

What is the National Council for Special Education?

The NCSE is the National Council for Special Education. The NCSE is an organisation independent of the department of education. The NCSE are not only a support for schools but a support for parents as well. On the NCSE website you can find a list of the NCSE staff local to your area. There you can find their contact details and it can be very helpful to arrange to meet them for advice and additional information.

What is the National Education Psychological Service?

NEPS psychologists work with both primary and post-primary schools and are concerned with learning, behaviour, social and emotional development. Each psychologist is assigned to a group of schools.

NEPS psychologists work in partnership with teachers, parents and children in identifying educational needs. They offer a range of services aimed at meeting these needs, for example, supporting individual students (through consultation and assessment), special projects and research.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapy is a healthcare profession offering support to people with physical, psychological and social problems to enable them to live life to the fullest. Occupational therapists help people to do the everyday activities that they want to do and need to do when faced with illness, injury, and disability or challenging life events. Therapists work with a wide variety of people whose problems may be congenital or the result of an accident, ageing or lifestyle.

Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. It involves enabling individuals and groups to do the things that they need and want to do in everyday life, and assists people to develop and maintain a meaningful lifestyle.

The therapy involves a process of assessment, action planning, and reviewing, enabling patients to target obstacles in their lives, tackle them effectively, and make the most of their lives and activities.

What is the Psychological Society of Ireland?

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) is the learned and professional body for psychology and psychologists in the Republic of Ireland. Since its birth in 1970, the Society has grown from a mere 17 members and now represents circa 3,500 members. The Society was established during a time when psychology as a subject and a profession was in its infancy in Ireland. Since its creation the members of the PSI have helped shape and develop psychology as a science in Ireland, and their work and commitment has given Irish psychology a voice and standing on not only the European but also the world stage. 

The PSI is committed to maintaining the high standards of practice in psychology that have been set by its members since the founding of the Society and also to exploring new and innovative ways of furthering psychology as an applied science. Its primary objective is the advancement of psychology as a pure and applied science in Ireland and elsewhere

What is Special Educational Needs?

NSCE defineds Special Educational Needs as “a restriction in the capacity of the person to participate in and benefit from education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability, or any other condition which results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition.” 

The EPSEN Act recognises that special educational needs may arise from four different
areas of disability:
• physical
• sensory
• mental health
• learning disability

or from any other condition that results in the child learning differently from a child without that condition.

What is Special Educational Needs Organiser?

The NCSE employs a countrywide network of about eighty Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs). SENOs provide a direct service to the parents of children with special educational needs and to schools within designated geographical areas.

Each SENO has responsibility for a list of schools (primary, post-primary and special), within the particular area they serve. At present, SENOs are mainly involved in resourcing schools to meet the needs of children with special educational needs and in ensuring that these resources are used efficiently in schools, in accordance with DES policy. A key
role of the SENO is to identify the level of resources that may be sanctioned for a school to support a particular child with special educational needs and what kinds of supports the child needs to benefit from school. In doing this, SENOs must take into account
professional reports and recommendations in relation to that child. They must also
operate within the policies set down on these matters by the Department of Education
and Skills.

SENOs have a role in supporting and advising parents of children with special educational needs.
SENOs identify possible placements for children with special educational needs,
liaise with the HSE and other services, engage in discussions with schools and assist in planning the transition of children between schools and onwards from schools to further/higher education and other services.

What is Special Education Teacher?

Special educational needs (SEN) teachers provide individual support to pupils with learning disabilities which prevent them from benefitting from the standard system of education.

SEN teachers work as resource teachers in mainstream schools, responsible for teaching disadvantaged pupils within the class or in a separate class. Some SEN teachers work in special schools catering for particular disabilities, while others work as part of visiting teacher schemes, providing specialised tuition to a handful of students on a region-by-region basis.

What is Specific Learning Disability? 

Sometimes children have difficulty in a particular area of learning such as reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic. A child may be assessed as having a specific learning disability when their difficulties are very specific and are not due to other causes, such as their general ability being below average, sight or hearing difficulties, emotional factors or a physical condition.
Difficulties can range from mild to severe. Specific learning disabilities include:
• Dyslexia which is a difficulty in learning to read. Children
may find it hard to learn to read words or to understand
what is written.
• Dyscalculia which is a difficulty with numbers. Children may
find it hard to learn to count or add, subtract, multiply and
divide or to understand how numbers work.
• Dysgraphia which is a difficulty with writing or spelling.
Children may find it hard to write legibly and may have
problems with spelling. They may find it hard to put their
thoughts in order when writing a story or essay.  

What is Speech and Language Therapist?

Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) provide assessment, diagnosis & therapy for children with a wide range of communication difficulties.

Working with other professionals in multidisciplinary teams, the therapist works closely with patients and their families to establish a treatment programme to help each patient communicate as effectively as possible.

 Speech and language therapists work with a variety of people – from young children, perhaps with difficulties such as stammering, to older people recovering from strokes and other brain injuries.

What is Special Needs Assistant?

As the name suggests, an SNA is someone who assists children with special needs. The primary duty of an SNA is to provide support for children with additional needs.

The SNAs primary role is to provide care and support. Furthermore, SNAs often work in a variety of classroom settings for various ages, although their role is a non-teaching one.

This can be either in mainstream schools or a dedicated special needs school. They work under the supervision of the classroom teacher or school princip

What is Special Speech and Language Disorder?

Children with specific speech and language disorder (SSLD) have very particular difficulties with language and /or speech development which are not caused by any other condition.
For instance, children with an intellectual disability or children
who are deaf or hard of hearing may have problems with language development, but these are not specific speech and language disorders as there are other underlying causes for the
difficulties in these cases. These children require support but do
not have SSLD.

Children with SSLD score in the average or above average range
on an intelligence test but have great difficulty in developing
and using language.

They can have receptive language disorders (difficulty in
understanding language) or expressive language disorders
(difficulties with speaking or expression). They may be
reluctant to speak and take part in groups so that it can sometimes be harder to gauge this.

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