Plan to prevent schools asking about special needs ‘ill-conceived’

Teachers criticise measure which is set to apply to enrolment policies within two years

A plan to prohibit schools from asking parents who wish to enrol a pupil whether their child has special needs is “ill-conceived” and risks failing vulnerable pupils, teachers say.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh on Wednesday said the requirements would apply to applications for enrolment for the 2021/22 school year onwards.

It is aimed at helping to remove “soft barriers” that parents of pupils with special-needs face when trying to find school places for their children.

However, the State's largest teachers' union accused the Minister of "putting the horse before the cart" by announcing a major policy change without consulting teachers. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation's general secretary John Boyle said schools will not be able to deliver inclusive education without sufficient resources.


“It is the right of every parent to enrol their child in a local school that can cater for their children’s needs,” he said.

“Children with additional needs require intensive supports, nurturing and wrap around care in primary schools.

“Until such time as the department gets serious about supporting diversity, the rights of children who need the most help in our schools will not be vindicated.”


In the absence of appropriate supports, Mr Boyle said parents will see “little point in sharing information with local schools” because they will know that these schools will be “unable to give their children their entitlement to an appropriate education.”

Mr Boyle said the union was seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister to secure assurances that meaningful consultation will take place and that necessary resources will be provided before any change to enrolment policy takes place.

A spokesman for Mr McHugh said the Department of Education was consulting with education partners in relation to the preparation of regulations that are required ahead of the move.

“The Minister has said that he intends to commence the remaining provisions of the Act so that they will apply to applications for enrolment for the 2021/22 school year,” he added.

The measure is contained in section 62 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 .


In relation to Government spending on special education, he said the level of investment was “unprecedented”.

“By next year we’ve funding for 1,886 special classes, 13,620 special education teachers and 17,014 special needs assistants,” he said.

“All of this investment is to try and ensure that children are educated in an inclusive setting as far as practicable.”

However, Mr Boyle said the department s has a long history of “abject neglect” when it comes to delivering special education.

“Primary schools have routinely, without adequate resources and with ever dwindling access to services, delivered inclusive education for thousands of pupils with special needs. At every turn, this department has erected barriers to full inclusion,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent