The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child’: Exploring school leaders’ experiences of implementing a systematic and schoolwide approach to inclusive special education in Irish post-primary schools.

Johanna Fitzgerald, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick (Ireland)


School improvement is linked to a school’s collective capacity to respond to change [1]. In Ireland, recent policy initiatives to embed collaborative processes of school self-evaluation provide a blueprint for school leaders to build communities engaged in collective cycles of evaluation, planning, action, reflection and learning which supports schools to view all learners as unique and develop integrated systems of support which ensure that all learners have access to high quality education [2,3]. However, previous research led by the author indicates that discrete approaches to provision of additional educational supports for learners with special educational needs persists and is creating unsustainable roles for teachers tasked with the responsibility [4,5]. Thirty-three post-primary schools across the Education and Training Board (ETB) sector participated in a developmental project called provision mapping [6] to promote school-wide systematic, data-informed, and collaborative approaches to inclusive special education [7].  The project builds on an earlier, smaller-scale pilot [6]. The author led the design and implementation of the project in partnership with the Education and Training Board of Ireland (ETBI). This paper reports on research following a national-level two-year implementation cycle of the project and captures, through surveys and interviews, the experiences of school leaders involved. As a novel approach to systematic, school-wide leadership for inclusive special education, limited evidence currently exists in Ireland. This research is important to support future development and refinement of the process and to build the evidence base, with the intention to use the provision mapping framework to support inclusive school improvement across the wider post-primary sector in subsequent years.



Inclusive Special Education; Educational Leadership; Provision Mapping




  1. Ainscow, M. and Sandill, A. (2010). ‘Developing inclusive education systems: the role of organisational cultures and leadership’. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14(4): 401-416.


  1. Department of Education Inspectorate (2022). Looking at Our Schools 2022: A Quality Framework for Post-Primary Schools. Dublin: Department of Education.


  1. Fitzgerald, J. and Radford. J. (2017). ‘The SENCO Role in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: Victims or Agents of Change?’ European Journal of Special Needs Education 32 (3): 452–466.


  1. Fitzgerald, J. and Radford, J. (2020). ‘Leadership for inclusive special education: A qualitative exploration of SENCOs’ and principals’ experiences in secondary schools in Ireland.’ International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1–16.


  1. Fitzgerald, J., Lynch, J., Martin, A., Cullen, B. (2021). ‘Leading Inclusive Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: Does Provision Mapping Support an Integrated, School-Wide and Systematic Approach to Inclusive Special Education?’ Education Sciences. 11(4):168.


  1. Hornby, G. (2015). ‘Inclusive Special Education: Development of a new Theory for the Education of Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.’ British Journal of Special Education 42 (3): 1–23.





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