The Department of Education is undertaking a review of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004.
EPSEN, the act under review, sets out a framework for the education rights of children with special educational needs, including autistic children. The Act’s key message is that the State, wherever possible, has a responsibility to educate children with SENs in an inclusive setting, alongside their peers who otherwise do not have SENs. However, as noted in AsIAm’s previous policy submission on the act, securing a suitable school place for autistic children continues to be a profound challenge for families. Indeed, securing a school place is often the first step in a lengthy and exhaustive process of ensuring necessary supports, an accessible curriculum and an appropriately trained staff. These barriers only intensified with the onset of Covid-19. Even when children with special educational needs were able to return to school, barriers continued in the form of:
● Lack of statutory footing around Individual Education Plans (s.), complicating
their resumption and review between families and teachers.
● Absence of a legal entitlement to a full educational assessment for all school
pupils with additional needs (s.).
● Inaction over establishing an independent and resourced Special Appeals
Board to arbitrate disputes over IEPs (s.).
Until EPSEN is fully and consistently implemented, starting with a thorough review, autistic children will not be guaranteed their constitutional right to an appropriate education.
Purpose of the Review