ASD and the Road to Secondary: More Choices & Questions

Choosing the right secondary school for your child is a daunting task, especially if your child has special needs of any sort and of any magnitude. A lot of thought goes into it and the final choice is not always set in stone. Like the rest of life's decisions,  sometimes when you've chosen a definite road to follow someone throws a curve ball in your wake and it can be enough to send you running in desperation back to the dreaded drawing board again.

I wrote about our decision making process around our secondary school choice last April and you can read it here. In this post I suggested the following question, amongst others :

What Leaving Certificate option will suit him? Does the school have all available options? 

I also said:

We also reckon that he'll be able for the regular Leaving Certificate option minus the languages of course!

Well, a little curve ball came our way this week and some more thought was given to our decision. I gleaned some important information from my serious fact-finding week and thought I'd share them with you. You just might find it helpful if you have similar decisions to be made. However please be aware that these are just my thoughts on this subject as they pertain to our situation,  you will need to do your own research!

As you may know there are different options available with regard to both of the big Irish State Exams sat in secondary school, namely the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate. There is the straight forward, regular and quite academic versions of both exams and then there are other options that might suit the less academic child....

The alternative Junior Cert Programme, as explained to me by our very helpful Principal-to-be, is basically the same programme, subjects (mainly) and concepts taught in a different way. The language is stripped back and the subjects taught in an easier and more structured manner for the children to better digest. There are smaller classes of about 14 students and, with some minor exceptions,  the teacher comes to them so there's less confusion moving around from class to class. Also the teachers tend to teach more than one subject so the students have less teachers to contend with. They tend to reward these students with occasional outings and treats too!

The Leaving Cert Applied, as I understand it, is the less academic version of the regular Leaving Cert and is primarily assessment based, as the child progresses through 5th and 6th year. I'm told that the assessments start in February of 5th year and accounts for 70% of the final marks with the actual exam accounting for just 30%. Seems much more manageable to me!

Some schools are single layer schools where only the regular, academic versions of these state exams are available. Other schools, as chosen by the Department, are termed as multi-layered schools and both options of each exam are available. This means, in effect,  that the multi-layered schools have the 'safety net' of the less academic versions to turn too if you've made an error of choice in 1st year.

It's not as simple as it seems though, not that it sounds that simple at all! Bear in mind that:

  • If your child commences in a single layer school in 1st year and is not coping it may be difficult,  for a variety of reasons,  to move to a multi-layered school with the Junior Cert alternative programme. It could be devastating for his/her self esteem plus there may not be a place available.
  • If your child does the easier Junior Cert and does well enough in it, it is my understanding that he/she may not move on to do the regular Leaving Cert, therefore will be tied to the Leaving Cert Applied.
  • The student cannot go direct to University or College from the Leaving Cert Applied but they can feed into Post Leaving Cert courses which lead to IT/DIT courses.
  • Just because the alternative courses are seemingly geared towards the lesser academic child doesn't mean that they won't suit the academic child! The academic child could have other social,  behavioural or anxiety issues,  for example,  that might lead them down that road. Conversely the seemingly less academic child might need a little challenge and with the right targeted supports do quite well going the regular route!
  • Although staying in one classroom may seem to be the perfect solution to the organisational problem of moving around, it may very well be that the physical movement from one class to another will give the child with sensory and self-regulation needs the sensory input they need to successfully navigate their day!
  • It seems that in a matter of a few years both exams will be going down the assessment route for all anyway so who knows what impact that will have on our choices! However, from what I hear it will only be for 1st year Junior Cert students starting in 2014 and sitting the exam in 2017. This is yet to be confirmed.
  • Nothing is set in stone....this is a learning curve for the next 6 years!
Phew! This Road to Secondary is a very  undulating  road indeed! I doubt any Sat Nav in existence would have the co-ordinates necessary for the long journey ahead!

I don't have a Sat Nav but I was recently given this list of suggested questions that parents might ask of  prospective schools in order to assist us in making our choices:
  • Does the school have: an Admissions Policy, an Anti-Bullying Policy and a Code of Discipline? (You may ask for copies of each of these documents)
  • Has the school experience of catering for the educational needs of other children with needs similar to your child?
  • How does the school allocate resource teaching (within class support, support outside class offered on an individual or group basis). Typically there will be a mixture of these depending on a child’s needs but it is worth getting a sense of how flexible schools are with the resources they are allocated.
  • If it is possible to talk to the head of resource teaching or year hear that may be helpful. Often they serve as the link between parents and the child’s subject specific teachers and you will be relying on them to ensure each teacher is aware of your child’s particular strengths and weaknesses.
  • How large are the classes?
  • How can parents communicate regularly with staff and how will they be informed of day-to-day problems?
  • Does the school include any social skills training for children with special needs in the curriculum?
  • Is there a quiet area or room where children can go to retreat if necessary?
  • What support and training will the staff receive to help them understand your child’s special needs? Will this support and training be ongoing and who will provide it?
  • Who is the school’s NEPS psychologist?
  • What opportunities does the school provide for extra curricular activities?
  • What support will the child receive on school trips?
And here's a suggestion of other things to consider on a school visit:
  • Are you made welcome?
  • Do the staff you talk to seem interested in your child?
  • Are the children positive about the school?
  • Is there a friendly positive atmosphere?
  • Do the classrooms look organised?
  • Is children’s work displayed and celebrated?
  • Are other cultures and religions represented in the school?

 All of this information,  plus detailed conversations with school and clinical teams helped make us feel happier about our decision and I hope that this gives you some pointers to start you on your research!* You will of course, like me, have your own questions to add to the mix.

More to follow soon on other issues to help us on our Road to Secondary....


* Note: Please do check out the information contained here in your own research. The information here has come from a very knowledgeable source but there is very little supportive background information available on the Department of Education & Skills website.


  1. Jazzy--these are all good questions and things to ask. There are some that I never even thought of. See, this is why I LOVE blogging. Thank you.

  2. What can I say? You're timing is absolutely perfect :) I will be printing it off and using it as a checklist as I continue ringing around all the local secondary schools for my boy. Thank you for this xx

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  4. @Lizbeth: One or two I never thought of either! Then there's the big one that I thought of and they didn't... programme choices;-)I know we're a few years ahead of you so glad you found it helpful.

    @Blue Sky: Glad to be of help;-) Best of luck! And stay tuned!

    Thanks for your comments :-)

    xx Jazzy

  5. ... carefully writing down ... "and don't forget to ask"... Jazzy, have you thought of writing a manual? "Special needs&education for dummies"?
    Thanks for the useful blog!

  6. Brilliant! I should print this off and put in Munchkins files for when our time comes to chose secondary options :) xx

  7. @Truf: God no!! Think I'll stick to discreet blogging! Glad you found this helpful.

    @Petunia: Thank you. It is always good to think ahead ;-)

    Thanks for your comments, I am happy (and relieved!) that you all find this helpful :-)

    xx Jazzy

  8. Thanks a million for this. There is so much to consider.

  9. @alisonwells: There is indeed, it's an educational minefield out there so it is. Glad you found it helpful.

    Thanks for commenting :-)

    xx Jazzy


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