In this section, we will outline definitions for both special school and autism class. We will also discuss procedures for securing a place and the supports and services your child can expect under current legislation.
What is a Special School?
A special school provides specific intervention and teaching approaches for students with particular types of disabilities and additional needs. These include mild to moderate GLDs, visual and/or hearing impairments, physical disabilities and EBDs. Autistic students, if their needs are particularly complex, may attend a special school.
In special schools, class sizes are kept small so that staff can attend effectively to their students’ needs. As well as teaching staff, other specialist staff may also be present in a special school (such as OTs, SLTs, nurses, etc.) where appropriate.
The learning and development activities delivered in a special school are directly informed by the needs of the students.
What is an Autism Class (AC)?
A classroom within a mainstream school can be set aside specifically to teach children who have a diagnosis of autism. This is known as an autism class.
The number of children in an autism class is usually quite small, so that the teaching and support staff can attend effectively to their students’ needs.
Autism classes can be set up in both primary and secondary schools, where the need is apparent. The needs of the children attending an autism class will vary greatly from one child to the next. One child may need to spend the majority of their day in the autism class, learning from a curriculum that has been specially tailored to meet their needs. Another child, on the other hand, may need to be in the autism class for a short period during each day, and can participate in the mainstream curriculum once they have access to this support.
It is important to note that all children availing of a school place in an autism class are entitled to dual enrollment, 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.
Can my child access transport to a special school or class?
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.
Applications for school transport can be made to the school principal, who will contact the local SENO on your behalf. Once the SENO has reviewed the application, they will forward the application to the School Transport Section of the DES.
How can I secure my child an appropriate school place?
If you believe that mainstream schooling is not appropriate for your child, you can contact your local SENO for advice.
They will be able to give you information on local special schools and autism classes. They will also be able to give you advice on your child’s entitlements and what would constitute an appropriate school place for your child, once they have access to supporting documents about your child from one or more professionals.
What is a Special Education Needs Organiser (SENO)?
A SENO works for the NCSE, undertaking the role of processing applications for additional supports (such as allocating SNA supports / appropriate school places) for pupils with SEN. They are a key point of contact with relation to school and autism class placements.
Each SENO is allocated to a fixed number of primary and post-primary schools within a geographical area. They will decide on behalf of the NCSE what supports are best suited to a particular child’s needs and entitlements.