CHILDREN WITH ADDITIONAL NEEDS1.7 The Equal Status Acts, 2000 to 2004
The Equal Status Act, 2000, was amended by the Equality Act, 2004. Together they are known as the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004. These Acts prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation and education on nine grounds, including disability.
Disability is broadly defined and covers a wide range of impairments and illnesses. In this respect, the Acts cover physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities which are described as “conditions” or “malfunctions” that result in “a person learning differently from a person without the condition or malfunction”. Under this legislation section 11: subsection 7 (1), an “educational establishment” means a preschool service within the meaning of Part VII of the
Childcare Act, 1991, a primary or post-primary school or a third level college. Educational establishments including pre-schools therefore, are required to provide “reasonable accommodation” including special treatment, facilities or adjustments to permit a child with a disability to access the school. While the Acts legislate specifically for provision of reasonable accommodation to enable those with SEN to access a school/pre-school, one could argue that such accommodations should also extend to the curriculum of the setting.
1.8 The EPSEN Act, 2004
Acknowledged as the most significant piece of legislation in the history of the State in
relation to the education of children with SEN (Carey, 2005; Griffin et al., 2007), the EPSEN Act, 2004,provides the statutory framework for the education of children with SEN. It defines the entire scope of special education provision and sets out a new approach to assessing the needs of children with SEN for educational services. In a marked departure from the definition of disability proposed in the Education Act, 1998, the EPSEN Act defines 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…” (part 1: section 1). It therefore recognises that learning difficulties are “relative rather than all-embracing” (Griffin et al., 2007: 59).
The EPSEN Act is underpinned by a commitment to inclusive policy and practice within our schools. This core value is highlighted within the preamble to the Act, which sets out its purpose
to make further provision, having regard to the common good and in a manner that is informed by best
international practice, for the education of people with special educational needs, to provide that the education of people with such needs shall, wherever possible, take place in an inclusive environment with those who do not have such needs, to provide that people with special educational needs shall have the same right to avail of, and benefit from, appropriate education as do their peers who do not have such needs, to assist children with special educational needs to leave school with the skills necessary to participate, to the level of their capacity in an inclusive way in the social and economic activities of society and to live independent and fulfilled lives, to provide for the greater involvement of parents of children with special educational needs in the education of their children…
Placing inclusion at the heart of practice, the Act decrees that children with SEN will be
educated in an “inclusive environment with children who do not have such needs unless
the nature or degree of those needs of the child is such that to do so would be inconsistent
with (a) the best interests of the child and (b) the effective provision of education for children with whom the child is to be educated” (section 2).
An important feature of the EPSEN Act was the establishment of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which was formally established in October 2005. Responsibility for ensuring that the Act is fully implemented rests with the NCSE. The NCSE delivers a local service through a national network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs).
Accordingly, the SENOs “interact with parents and schools and liaise with the HSE in
providing resources to support children with special educational needs” (NCSE, 2010).
Ultimately, the SENO provides a single point of contact at local level to facilitate the process of identification, assessment and provision of resources for children with SEN. This facilitates the inclusion of children in the school system.
Among the many functions of the NCSE are the following:
1. In consultation with schools and the Health Service Executive to plan and co-ordinate
the provision of education and support services for children with SEN
2. In consultation with schools to plan for the integration of education for children with
SEN with education for children generally
3. To make information available to parents regarding the entitlements of their children
4. To ensure that the progress of children with SEN is monitored and reviewed at regular
5. To assess and review the resources required in relation to educational provision for
children with SEN
6. To consult with and advise the Minister for Education and Science in relation to any
matter regarding the education of children with SEN
7. To ensure that a continuum of special education provision is available as required in
relation to each category of disability
8. To conduct research and disseminate findings and information relating to best practice
nationally and internationally (EPSEN Act, 2004: Section, 20: 21-22).
In addition, the Council has specific functions in relation to the core provisions of the EPSEN
Act including assessment and Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Section three of the Act
outlines the responsibilities of the school principal to take … “such measures as are
practicable to meet the educational needs of the student concerned” (part 3 section 2). Such measures include the arrangement of an assessment in consultation with the parents.
Following assessment and diagnosis, the school principal must, within one month of
receiving the assessment, work with the SENO, the child’s parents and any other persons considered relevant to develop an IEP for the child.
Through the SENO network, the NCSE has responsibility for decision-making in relation to the allocation of resource teacher and special needs assistant posts to schools. Application can be made by a school to the NCSE for additional resources in respect of a student with special educational needs.
Critically, in relation to pre-school children, the EPSEN Act makes provision for the parents/guardians of a child with a disability to request an educational assessment from the NCSE, whether the child is in school or not. This assessment must start not later than three months after the initial application and the assessment report made available to parents/guardians when it is completed. Following the assessment, an Education Plan will be prepared for the child. This will the education programme designed to take the form of a written statement describing the child’s specific needs and meet those needs. It also sets out the supports to be
provided to help the child to get the most out of learning and school life. Where thein relation to pre-school children, the EPSEN Act makes provision for the parents/
guardians of a child with a disability to request an educational assessment from the NCSE,
whether the child is in school or not. This assessment must start not later than three months
after the initial application and the assessment report made available to parents/guardians
when it is completed. Following the assessment, an Education Plan will be prepared for the
child. This will take the form of a written statement describing the child’s specific needs and
the education programme designed to meet those needs. It also sets out the supports to be
provided to help the child to get the most out of learning and school life. Where the
assessment identifies health service needs, the HSE will be informed. Regular follow-up
assessments are to be undertaken as the child’s needs change. In relation to the role of the SENO, while the primary responsibility for meeting the needs of the pre-school child rests ith the Health Services Executive, the SENO may address any concerns that a parent may have in relation to the child’s present or future education needs.
Unfortunately, as a result of the current economic climate in Ireland, the government
introduced the Financial Emergency Measures Act, 2009, as a result of which, the
implementation of the EPSEN Act, 2004 has been deferred.
1.9 The Disability Act, 2005
This Act defines disability as a “substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment” (part 1 section 2). Thus, the purpose of the Act is to enable provision to be made for the assessment of health and education needs of persons with disabilities; to enable Government Ministers to make provision for services to meet those needs; to provide for the preparation of plans by Ministers for the provision of services; to provide for appeals in the event of services not being provided and to promote equality and social inclusion.