Senator Aisling Dolan - Strong Voice, New Vision.

Senator Dolan welcomes review of Special Educational Needs – EPSEN Act 2004

December 21, 2021

Senator Dolan welcomes review of Special Educational Needs – EPSEN Act 2004

Senator Aisling Dolan welcomes the announcement by Minister of State Josepha Madigan to review the structure of special education for children under 18.

With responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion, Minister Madigan will commence a full review this January 2022 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 (EPSEN)

The Fine Gael Senator for Roscommon-Galway stated

This review of Special Education is much-needed, we have to identify whether we are meeting the special educational needs of children under the age of 18. Parents and families will be able to provide feedback through a consultation process and the Advisory Group will include key stakeholders including parent & advocacy groups.

As a member of the Oireachtas Education Committee, I’d the opportunity to hear feedback from a number of groups on special educational needs last April 2021 and the lack of implementation of a number of areas of the EPSEN Act. Groups also highlighted how this 2004 Act would need amendment to take account of developments over the past 17 years in understanding special needs education.

We heard submissions from AsIAm, Ireland's national autism charity, Down Syndrome Ireland, Inclusion Ireland and the Children’s Ombudsman. These groups requested a review of EPSEN and to put legislative measures in place where possible. An assessment of need is currently managed by the HSE however there are severe backlogs.

Groups also spoke about the importance of mainstream education for people with disabilities to be seen and heard, also that integration at school level will also lead to better integration at a later stage in the workplace.”

Minister Josepha Madigan has delivered pilots of the School Inclusion Model (SIM) in 75 primary & post-primary schools with integrated multi-disciplinary teams, psychologists, Speech & Language therapists in education and we also see this multi-disciplinary model in DEIS schools working with the HSE. In 2022 close to 25% (€2 billion) of the educational budget is allocated to special needs with an increased total of 19,200 SNAs and an additional 980 teachers with over 300 allocated to support special needs classes & places ”

Children with special needs have to be at the forefront of this review and I look forward to working with Minister Madigan on this consultation process and to progress the full implementation of the EPSEN Act as soon as possible.”

Minister Madigan has also asked the Department of Education to review the operation of section 37A of the Education Act 1998 which deals with school placements for children with special educational needs.

Minister Madigan said: “I am committed to ensuring that every child receives an education that is rights-based and allows them to achieve their full potential.  The EPSEN Act 2004 is now in place for more than 17 years and there have been many significant changes and developments to policy relating to the education of children with special needs in that time. It is important that we take full account of developments over the last two decades, to ensure that our legislation reflects current best practice, both nationally and internationally.

I have already put on record that reviewing and updating our laws relating to special education is a priority for me as Minister, and while it is important for this to happen as soon as possible, I also want this review to be as effective as it can be. It is important we take into account the existing policy framework, legislative concerns and examine existing information and research. We also want to hear from a wide range of stakeholders to help us. Ultimately we want our legislation to facilitate the best possible education and outcomes for children with special needs at all stages of their education.