What is an IEP?
Individual Education Plans (IEP) identify children’s learning needs, prioritize them and set goals to meet those needs. For example, if social skills are a problem for a child, part of her IEP should include specific goals to improve those skills. If a child has difficulty with handwriting, his IEP should include steps to improve his handwriting and/or to teach him touch-typing.
An IEP results from a collaborative effort between teachers, school administrators, medical and psychological professionals, parents, students and others. A school administrator or teacher setting goals for a student without this collaborative effort is not an IEP. Parents’ contributions are critical to the IEP process as they have a unique insight into their children’s needs.
IEPs are not static documents. They evolve as children’s needs change. Schools revise IEPs if children meet their goals, to modify existing goals, to change goals and when children’s needs change. IEPs should be reviewed at least once every school year.
Should my child have an IEP?
An IEP is recommended for any child with additional learning needs including children with special needs as well as gifted children. A child does not need a formal diagnosis for an IEP. The focus of the IEP is on the child’s needs and not his diagnosis.
If your child has special needs, an IEP is important for several reasons. An IEP shows
- your child’s most important learning needs
- how the school will help your child with those needs
- any accommodations given to your child for homework, classwork or tests
- modifications to the general curriculum
- the school staff that are responsible for implementing the IEP
- your child’s progress
In addition, an IEP gives parents and students a say in how their educational needs are met.
Are schools in Ireland required to do IEPs?
IEPs are not legally required in the Irish school system. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) of 2004 includes a provision requiring IEPs, but it is not yet in force. However, using IEPs is good educational practice, and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) recommends their use. Therefore, parents are entitled to ask their children’s schools to prepare IEPs.
How are IEPs in Ireland prepared?
Putting together an IEP is a process. The NCSE recommends schools follow the process described in this article. To begin, schools gather information about children’s strengths and needs. Schools get information from several sources including the children’s parents, school records, medical reports and assessments. In addition, the school may consult the child, depending on the child’s age and abilities.
Once this information is gathered, the school principal or her designee, circulates the information to relevant parties. Then the school schedules a meeting to discuss the IEP. Parents, school staff and relevant professionals are involved in this meeting.
One of the goals of an IEP is to help children with special needs successfully progress through the education system. The IEP focus is on a child’s learning needs, which are “prioritised areas for intervention”, according to the NCSE. After identifying priority learning needs, goals or targets addressing those needs are formulated.
Targets are things the student will learn or accomplish. So that schools can assess student’s progress, targets should be specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound (SMART). The IEP also includes the methods the school will use to help the student reach their targets.
If you think your child should have an IEP, talk to her school. The school may already have an IEP in place. If so, get a copy of the IEP to review. Then, schedule a meeting to discuss the IEP with school staff. If the school does not have an IEP in place for your child, meet with the school principal and request an IEP for your child.
More information about IEPs in Ireland is on the NCSE’s website.