Study Examines Special Class Provision for Children with Special Needs

Posted on: 03 June 2014

Understanding Special Class Provision in Ireland, a major survey of special class provision in Irish schools was published recently. The study conducted for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) by Trinity College Dublin and ESRI shows that more special classes are opening yearly in recent times compared to the trends two decades ago.

This trend is seen at both primary and post-primary level; however, the peak in growth at post-primary level was more pronounced in recent years:

Primary schools

  • 8 classes per year opening in the 1990s
  • 25-28 classes per year opening from 2009- 2011

Post-primary schools

  • 2 classes per year opening in the 1990s
  • 50-67 classes per year opening from 2009- 2011

At the time of survey in 2011, there were 659 formal and informal special classes. The special classes in this survey include both formal special classes sanctioned by the NCSE or Department of Education and Skills (DES) and informal classes established by schools through pooling together resource teaching hours allocated for individual students. There is a marked difference in these types of special classes at primary and post-primary. Of the 357 special classes at primary level, less than 10% were informally put in place at school level.  At post-primary, the survey shows that schools were more inclined to pool resource teaching hours – over 50% of the 302 classes at post-primary level had been informally established by schools.

Trinity co-authors included Associate Professor Michael Shevlin,  Research Fellow, Dr Fiona Smyth and Adjunct Assistant Lecturer Selina McCoy.

Commenting on the findings Dr McCoy said: “The picture that emerges is one of wide diversity in the nature of special class provision. Some special classes are self-contained and relatively permanent groupings, comprising discrete special educational needs and a narrow range of age. Schools can also have informal groupings comprising a wide range of needs and sometimes students without diagnosed special educational needs as well.”

Types of children in the classes

Differences between the levels are also noted in the type of children being supported in these classes:

Primary schools

  • 60% of classes at primary level are for children with autism,
  • 14% for students with mild general learning disabilities and
  • 11% for students with specific speech and language disorders.

Post-primary schools

  • 22% of the classes are for students with mild general learning disabilities,
  • 19% for those with autism and
  • 19% for students without a special educational needs diagnosis but with other needs such as literacy difficulties. Most of these students are catered for in the informal classes established through the pooling of resources.

The survey highlights some interesting findings on special class provision and some marked differences in provision between primary and post-primary schools. The second part of this study is looking in more detail at student and school characteristics and how students are faring and will explore these issues in more depth. These findings from this part of the study will be available in 2015.