Teachers of pupils with special needs—both in special education and in mainstream schools—now have curriculum guidelines. Margaret O’Donnell, NCCA


The draft Guidelines for teachers of students with general learning disabilities represent a historic development in special educational provision in Ireland. This initiative had its genesis in the publication of the Special Education Review Committee (SERC 1993) which defined the range of difficulties and disabilities included in the term ‘special needs’ and described the gaps in curriculum development as one of the major deficiencies in the system of special education in Ireland.

The findings and recommendation of the SERC Report were reflected in subsequent education legislation, namely the White Paper on Education, Charting our education future (1995) and the Education Act (1998). Under the terms of the Education Act, the National Council for Curriculum Assessment (NCCA) has the function of advising the minister for Education and Science regarding the curriculum and syllabuses for students with a disability or other special educational needs. The Act states that it will be the function of the Council

…to advise the Minister on the requirements, as regards curriculum and syllabuses of students with a disability or other special educational needs. (41.2.g)

The initial work which lay the basis for the development of these draft guideline documents began in 1998 and culminated in the publication of the discussion paper Special educational needs: Curriculum issues (1999). This document outlined the historical background, the nature of special educational needs and the framework and structure of the guidelines.

These draft teacher guidelines represent Council’s first initiative in the provision of curriculum support materials to address learning needs in this area of special education. However, because of the range and complexity of those needs, the NCCA considered it essential that this draft of the guidelines be used as a basis for a wide process of consultation with, teachers, management, parents and all others engaged in the area of special education. The consultation process is designed to elicit opinions on the structure, content and resource implications of the guidelines.

The development of the Draft guidelines for teachers of students with general learning disabilities is the result of collaborative work with the partners in education—including parents, teachers, boards of management, colleges of education, psychologists and the Department of Education and Science. The dedication of the partners, and in particular the members of the Special Education Steering Committee, is evidenced by the completion of the draft guidelines which were launched by the Minister of State, Brian Lenihan TD, on November 15th, 2002.

The draft guidelines were disseminated to all schools, colleges of education, regional health boards, voluntary bodies, libraries, education centres and to all the partners represented on Steering Committee and Council. They were also published on CD-ROM and on the NCCA website www.ncca.ie in portable document format (PDF).

Overview of the Guidelines

The primary aim of the draft Guidelines for teachers of students with general learning disabilities is to support primary and post-primary teachers who work with students who have general learning disabilities, irrespective of the context in which they are being educated.

The guidelines comprise three main books which are presented as a suite and represent a continuum of provision:

  • Guidelines for teachers of students with severe and profound general learning disabilities
  • Guidelines for teachers of students with moderate general learning disabilities
  • Guidelines for teachers of students with mild general learning disabilities.

The three main books are sub-divided into teacher guidelines and curriculum guidelines. For ease of use, each book generally relates to a category of disability, though teachers may need to access more than one book, depending on students’ strengths and needs.

The guidelines are intended for use alongside the mainstream curriculum. By outlining examples of how content, exemplars and teaching strategies can be differentiated at different levels, the guidelines will assist teachers in developing curriculum experiences for these students which are broad, balanced, relevant, differentiated and continuous. The guidelines offer a framework within which schools can review, plan and develop curriculum provision in a way that is relevant to the needs of these students and consistent with the general principles of education for all students.


The NCCA, in collaboration with the Education Centres, briefed primary and post-primary teachers on the background to this initiative, the aims and function of the guidelines and the key principles underpinning them. The briefing meetings served to explain the structure of the guidelines, as they address the needs of students with severe and profound, moderate, and mild general learning disabilities at primary and post-primary levels. It also outlined details of the consultative process.

An implementation study is to be carried out in a purposive sample of schools. Written submissions have been sought from teacher organisations, colleges of education, parents, management boards and other interested parties. The aims of these initiatives are to obtain detailed and specific information to assist in redrafting the guidelines.

Redrafting the guidelines

The guidelines will be redrafted, based on qualitative and quantitative information received from all strands of the consultation. Information received to date from the briefing meetings, survey responses and written submissions suggests that the following may become key revision categories in the redrafting process:

  • structure of the guidelines
  • teaching approaches and methodologies
  • planning for learning and curriculum needs
  • approaches to assessment
  • resources, human and physical, necessary to implement the guidelines
  • time allocation
  • training needs of teachers.


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