“A different world” – Supporting self-efficacy among teachers working in special classes for autistic pupils in Irish primary schools.


  • Caitriona Egan
  • Neil Kenny DCU School of Inclusive and Special Education


Inclusive education; special classes; autism; teacher isolation; teacher wellbeing; self-efficacy


Education provision for autistic pupils within the Irish education system has changed radically in recent decades. Autistic pupils now comprise 1.5% of the current Irish pupil population and the number of autistic pupils in receipt of Special Needs Assistance (SNA) support in mainstream schools increasing by 83% in the five-year period between 2011 and 2016 (Campbell at al. 2017). This small-scale qualitative study seeks to examine the experiences and perspectives of principals and teachers working in special classes for autistic pupils across a range of Irish primary schools. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with 10 participants, 4 principals and 6 special class teachers, were conducted, thus facilitating a context-driven and nuanced understanding of how autism classes operate across a representative sample of six Irish primary schools from the perspectives of those involved. In doing so, it seeks to identify some factors perceived to impact efficacy among teachers working in autism classes, as well as explore potential avenues that may support schools in building teacher capacity to foster inclusive provision. The findings of the study may have relevance in identifying the challenges faced by teachers working in autism classes in Ireland, signposting some avenues for addressing such challenges and building capacity within schools to ensure quality educational outcomes for autistic pupils.


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

Almog, O., & Shechtman, Z. (2007). Teachers' democratic and efficacy beliefs and styles of

coping with behavioural problems of pupils with special needs. European Journal of

Special Needs Education, 22(2), 115-129.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. Self-efficacy beliefs of

adolescents, 5(1), 307-337.

Banks, J., McCoy, S., Frawley, D., Kingston, G., Shevlin, M., & Smyth, F (2016). Special classes in Irish schools Phase 2: A qualitative study. Trim: NCSE.

Booth, T., & Ainscow, M., (2002). Index for inclusion: Developing learning and participation in schools. Bristol: Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77—101.

Brinkmann, S., & Kvale, S. (2015). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Cresswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Daly, P., Ring, E., Egan, M., Fitzgerald, J., Griffin, C., Long, S., McCarthy, E., Moloney, M., O’ Brien, T., O’ Byrne, A., O’ Sullivan, S., Ryan, M., & Wall, E. (2016). An evaluation of education provision for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Ireland. Trim: NCSE.

Day, T., & Prunty, A. (2015). Responding to the challenges of inclusion in Irish schools. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(2), 237—252.

Denzin, N., & Giardina, M. (2008). Qualitative inquiry and the politics of evidence. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press.

Dunleavy, M. (2015). The influence of internal school relationships on the inclusion of pupils with ASD. REACH Journal of Special Needs Education in Ireland, 29(1), 33–42.

Dworkin, S. (2012). Sample size policy for qualitative studies using in-depth interviews. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 41(6), 1319–1320.

Forlin, C., Loreman, T., Sharma, U., & Earle, C. (2009). Demographic differences in changing pre-service teachers’ attitudes, sentiments and concerns about inclusive education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 13(2), 195–209.

Goodall, C. (2015). How do we create ASD-friendly schools? A dilemma of placement. Support for Learning, 30(4), 305– 319.

Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Field Research, 18(1), 59– 82.

Hattie, J. A. (2009). The contribution from the home. Visible learning: A synthesis of over, 800, 61-71.

Horan, M. & Merrigan, C. (2019). Teachers’ perceptions of the effect of professional development on their efficacy to teach pupils with ASD in special classes. REACH, 32(1), 34-49.

Hosford, S. & O’ Sullivan, S. (2016). A climate of self-efficacy: the relationship between school climate and teacher efficacy for inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20(6), 604-621.

Kaff, M. (2004). Multitasking is multitaxing: Why special educators are leaving the field. Preventing School Failure 48(2), 10–17.

Kenny, N., McCoy, S., & Mihut, G. (2020). Special education reforms in Ireland: changing systems, changing schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1-20.

King, F. (2011). The role of leadership in developing and sustaining teachers’ professional learning. Management in Education, 25(4), 149–155.

Langher, V., Caputo, A., & Ricci, M. E. (2017). The potential role of perceived support for reduction of special education teachers’ burnout. International Journal of Educational Psychology, 6(2), 120–147.

Leyser, Y., Zeiger, T., & Romi, S. (2011). Changes in self-efficacy of prospective special and general education teachers: Implication for inclusive education. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 58(3), 241-255.

Lindsay, S., Proulx, M., Thomson, N., & Scott, H. (2013). Educators’ challenges of including children with autism spectrum disorder in mainstream classrooms. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 60(4), 347–362.

Lindsay, S., Proulx, M., Thomson, N., & Scott, H. (2014). Exploring teachers’ strategies for including children with autism spectrum disorder in mainstream classrooms. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 18(2), 101–122.

Malinen, O. P., Savolainen, H., & Xu, J. (2012). Beijing in-service teachers' self-efficacy and attitudes towards inclusive education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(4), 526-534.

McCoy, S., Banks, J., Frawley, D., Watson, D., Shevlin, M., & Smyth, F. (2014). Understanding special class provision in Ireland Phase 1: Findings from a national survey of schools Trim: NCSE.

Morse, J. (2000). Determining sample size. Qualitative Health Research, 10(1), 3–5

National Council for Special Education (NCSE) (2011). The future role of special schools and classes in Ireland: Policy advice. Trim: NCSE.

Parsons, S., Guldberg, K., MacLeod, A., Jones, G., Prunty, A., & Balfe, T. (2009). International review of the literature of evidence of best practice provision in the education of persons with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Trim: NCSE.

Ravet, J. (2011). Inclusive/ exclusive? Contradictory perspectives on autism and inclusion: the case for an integrative position. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(6), 667– 682.

Romi, S., & Leyser, Y. (2006). Exploring inclusion preservice training needs: a study of variables associated with attitudes and self‐efficacy beliefs. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 21(1), 85-105.

Saloviita, T. (2015). Measuring pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive education: Psychometric properties of the TAIS scale. Teaching and Teacher Education, 52, 66-72.

Schlichte, J., Yssel, N., Merbler, J. (2005). Pathways to burnout: Case studies in teacher isolation and alienation. Preventing School Failure, 50(1), 35–40.

Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and social sciences (3rd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Shevlin, M., Winter, E., & Flynn, P. (2012). Developing inclusive practice: teacher perceptions of opportunities and constraints in the Republic of Ireland. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 17(10), 1119–1133.

Shevlin, M., & Banks, J. (2021). Inclusion at a Crossroads: Dismantling Ireland’s System of Special Education. Education Sciences, 11(4), 161.

Soodak, L. C., Podell, D. M., & Lehman, L. R. (1998). Teacher, student, and school attributes as predictors of teachers' responses to inclusion. The Journal of Special Education, 31(4), 480-497.

Ware, J., Balfe, T., Butler, C., Day, T., Dupont, M., Harten, C., Farrell, A. M., McDaid, R., O’ Riordan, M., Prunty, A., & Travers, J. (2009). Research report on the role of special schools and classes in Ireland. Trim: NCSE.




How to Cite

Egan, C., & Kenny, N. (2022). “A different world” – Supporting self-efficacy among teachers working in special classes for autistic pupils in Irish primary schools . REACH: Journal of Inclusive Education in Ireland, 35(1). Retrieved from https://reachjournal.ie/index.php/reach/article/view/326