State’s Interpretation of Inclusive Education Must Align with International Best Practice, Says Commission

The Review of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (“EPSEN”) Act 2004 presents an opportunity to align inclusive education in Ireland with our international obligations and with international best practice, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) has stated in our submission on the legislation.

In the almost 20 years since the EPSEN Act, there have been major legislative and policy developments in the area of disability and inclusive education. The Act was enacted before Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and its ratification in 2018. So the rights and protections of disabled persons from that Convention are not reflected in it. In addition, significant parts of the EPSEN Act are not in force, emphasising the need for a time bound implementation plan for any changes to it.

In our recommendations, made as Ireland’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism under Article 33 of CRPD, we set out measures that should be taken in order to bring inclusive education in line with international standards and best practice. The State should guarantee that there is no legislative exception to any student, regardless of educational need, to access and benefit from an inclusive education alongside their peers. The State must also ensure a clear legislative basis for the provision of educational assessment, the development of individual education plans with adequate resourcing, and the availability of complaint and appeals mechanisms.

Other recommendations include:

  • On Participation: The reformed Act should include the right to participation as a guiding principle for all decisions and actions made. For example, it should specifically provide for the right of the child to express their views during an individual assessment, the preparation and review of an individual education plan, and in any appeal process. Access to independent advocacy must be ensured.
  • On Supports: Legislation and policy should cover the educational supports needed for students to help their transition to higher education and further education and training, and lifelong learning. It should also address the supports required for the transition from early childhood education. It is important that inclusive education policies should be placed in the context of other inclusive polices for disabled people, such as primarily social inclusion policies. These policies need to provide adequate funding of third level education for all disabled people. In addition the State should address the administrative burdens faced by disabled students and their parents or caregivers in having to apply for support at each stage of their education.
  • On Data: The State should invest in a ring-fenced resource to develop and maintain a national data infrastructure that improves the comprehensiveness, quality, accessibility and availability of disaggregated equality data on students and workers across the education sector, aligned to Article 31 of the CRPD. In particular, it needs to ensure the collection and publication of data on types of impairment, any intersecting equality ground, socio-economic status and geographic location. Also included should be barriers encountered, educational support and reasonable accommodation provided.
  • On Language: The language used in the Act should be reformed to become more inclusive and aligned with international standards and international best practice on the understanding of disability and inclusive education.
  • On Further Reviews: The State should initiate an independent review of the Disability Act 2005 in tandem with the review of the EPSEN Act.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“This much needed review presents a real opportunity for Ireland to rethink its entire approach to what inclusive education means in a modern context and how that approach can support those amongst us with disabilities to flourish.

Key to the success of this review will be the involvement of those who are actually affected by it, and we call on the Government to meaningfully consult with them at every stage of this process.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The Submission can be viewed here:‘EPSEN’-Act-2004.pdf


Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.