Needs Act 2004
This act became law in July 2004. The following is a summary of some of its main provisions.
1. The Act aims to ensure that children with disabilities have the same right to avail of and benefit from appropriate education, as do children without disabilities.
2. One is a person with special education needs if there is a restriction in your capacity 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 you learning differently from people who do not have the condition.
3. It endorses the Department of Education and Science’s policy on integration and inclusion, and it provides that the education of children (up to 18 years of age) with special needs should take place, as far as possible, in an inclusive environment.
4. Children with special educational needs will be educated alongside other children in school, unless this would be inconsistent with the interests of the child with special needs, or that it would adversely affect the education of other children in the class.
5. Under the Act, a school can be required to admit a pupil with special educational needs, providing this is in keeping with the needs of the child, the wishes of the child’s parents, and where the school can (with extra resources if necessary) accommodate the child’s needs. The newly appointed National Council for Special Education (NCSE) will have the power to designate the school which the child with special needs is to attend and that school must admit the child. The school’s Board of Management may appeal such a decision. The burden of proof will be on the Board of Management to show that they do not have the resources to meet the needs of the child.
6. Any child who is suspected of having a disability can be referred for an assessment either by his/her parents, by the school Principal (with parental consent), by the Health Board or by the NCSE. This assessment must be started within one month and will be conducted within three months. If an educational disability is identified, the Principal must organise the preparation of an educational plan for the child within one month of the assessment.
7. The services (educational or otherwise) that the child requires to enable him/her to participate in and benefit from education will be provided. It is intended that Health Boards will provide health related services (e.g. therapies) and that the NCSE will ensure the provision of education related services through the Special Education Needs Organisers (SENO’s) that begin work this September.
8. In the case where a child’s needs are considered complex, an individual education plan (IEP) meeting will be convened by the SENO. Parents, the child (if appropriate), school staff and any other persons who are deemed appropriate, will attend the meeting. The IEP will be detailed and goal-driven. It will set out the nature and degree of the child’s abilities, skills and talents; the nature of the disability; the present level of educational performance, the child’s special needs, the services to be provided; the outcomes which the child is to achieve over a specified period (not longer than 12 months). The NCSE is currently preparing guidelines on education plans.
9. The Principal of the school will be responsible for implementing the education plan and the school “shall be provided with the necessary monies and support services ….”
10. The Act also provides for an appeal system to a new independent Special Education Appeals Board to give parents (in particular) a quicker and less expensive way of having deficiencies in their child’s education addressed. However, this will not prevent parents from seeking access to the courts.
11. The Act has been passed but the required orders to bring it, or parts of it, into effect have not yet been made. All of the provisions of the Act will be implemented over a five year period.
12. One caveat. This is not a full “rights based” approach. The Act allows some lee-way to the Department of Finance and to the Health Boards in respect of resources. Thus, lack of available resources may provide a basis for refusing to provide a child with an educational disability with the services he/she requires.