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Dr Johanna Fitzgerald

Dr Johanna Fitzgerald

BA; HDE (UCC); MA Inclusion & Disability Studies (IOE, London) & Ed D (IOE UCL)
Head of Department, Senior Lecturer (currently on secondment)

Research interests

Johanna's current research focuses on enhancing teaching and learning for all students, particularly those with additional and special educational needs, across three main domains- educational leadership, pedagogy, and teacher professional learning- all of which interact to influence student learning and the quality of outcomes for diverse learners. Her research is concerned with the development of an integrated systematic approach to inclusive and special education provision and an understanding of how special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) and school leaders can improve their practice. Underpinning her research is recognition of the importance of collaborative and situated approaches to professional learning, processes of individual reflective practice and school self-evaluation, all of which coalesce to identify the need for reform in the first instance, but more importantly, promote evidence-informed strategic direction for whole school improvement.

Current Projects

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2021-ongoing). ‘Leadership for Inclusive and Special Education: Provision Mapping to Support a Strategic, Schoolwide Approach to Inclusive and Special Education.’ Research and knowledge exchange initiative in collaboration with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI).
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2022-ongoing). Policy Brief: Formalisation of the SENCO Role. In collaboration with three post primary management bodies (JMB, ETBI, ACCS). A joint policy brief developed for consideration by the DE. 
  • Dunleavy, M. Ambrose, L., O'Brien, T. and Fitzgerald, J. (2020 ongoing). 'The teaching of social skills to prepare autistic individuals to access Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) lessons and relationships in the community, especially sexual relationships.'
  • Gallagher, A., Fitzgerald, J., Murphy, C. A. and Law, J. (since deceased, RIP) (2020 ongoing). ‘Establishing the acceptability, appropriateness and feasibility of the use of a classroom observation tool when supporting children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in school.’ Collaborative research project in conjunction with colleagues in the Department of Allied Health, University of Limerick and Prof James Law, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, UK. University of Limerick Health Implementation Science and Technology (HIST) and Health Research Institute (HRI). 
  • Murphy, C., Gallagher, A., Fitzgerald, J., Conway, P. (2019 ongoing). 'The case for inter-professional education involving student speech and language therapists and student teachers: the perspectives of academics in higher education institutions in Ireland.'



Commissioned Research Reports

  • Fitzgerald, J., Ambrose, L., Ó Múrchu, F. and O’ Keefe, E. (2021). AsIAm Autism Friendly Schools Initiative: Insights from Participating Schools: Emerging Findings from Phase 1. Dublin: AsIAm.

  • Daly, P., Ring, E., Egan, M., Fitzgerald, J., Griffin, C. P., Long, S. et al. (2016) An Evaluation of Education Provision for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Ireland: NCSE Research Report No. 21'. Trim: Co. Meath: NCSE. Access at:

Book Chapters

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2021). ‘From Bureaucracy to Adhocracy: Confronting Wicked Problems in Inclusive and Special Education’, A. Leavy and M. Nohilly (eds.). Childhood Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2018) ‘Leading Learning for Children with Autism Spectrum Difference’, in E. Ring, P. Daly, and E. Wall (eds.), Autism from the Inside Out: A Handbook for Parents, Early Childhood, Primary, Post-primary and Special School Settings. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Peer Reviewed Articles

  • Ambrose, L., Fitzgerald, J., O Murchu, F. and O'Keeffe, E. (In Press). 'Exploring the impact of an Autism Friendly Schools Initiative on teacher understanding and awareness of autism'. Good Autism Practice. 
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2022). ‘The Critical Role of SENCO Leadership for Inclusive School Improvement’. LEARN, Journal of the Irish Learning Support Association 2022.
  • 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.
  • Gallagher, A., Murphy, C.A., Fitzgerald, J. and Law, J. (2021). ‘Addressing implementation considerations when developing universal interventions for speech, language and communication needs in the ordinary classroom: a protocol for a scoping review’ HRB Open Research.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Higgins, E., Fitzgerald, J. and Howard, S. (2015). ‘Literacy Lift-Off: an experimental evaluation of a reading recovery programme on literacy skills and reading self- concept’. Educational Psychology in Practice: theory, research and practice in educational psychology, 31(3), 247-264.

Other Articles

  • Mannion, N. and Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018) ‘Addressing the Wellbeing of Learners with Complex Special Educational Needs: Using Junior Cycle Level Two Learning Programmes for explicit teaching of wellbeing for wellbeing.’ LEARN- Journal of the Irish Learning Support Association, 27-41.

Multi-Media Publications

Recent National and International Conference Papers

Invited Presentations/ Keynotes

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2023, January). ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: Does Provision Mapping support schools to respond collectively to the diverse needs of all students?’Invited keynote speaker Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) Annual Conference for Principals and Deputy Principals, Sligo.

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2022). 'Leading Inclusive Education Across the Continuum of Support: SENCOs and School Leaders in Partnership.' AMCSS/ JMB 35th Annual Conference: Recovery and Renewal in Our Faith Schools. 27-29 April, Europe Hotel, Killarney.

  • Fitzgerald, J. (2019, November). Leadership for Learning: The critical role of the senior leadership team in building schoolwide capacity to meet diverse needs of learners.  Invited keynote address Principals and Deputy Principals Association Annual Conference, Strand Hotel, Limerick.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2019, November). Mapping Inclusive and Special Education for All, Some, and Few Learners: Provision mapping as a response. Invited speaker National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) Annual Conference, Athlone.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2019, October). Provision Mapping to Support a Whole-School, Strategic Approach to Inclusive and Special Education. Invited keynote address Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools Special Education Conference, Mount Wolseley Hotel, Tullow, Carlow.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2019, September). SENCOs as agents of change: Harnessing research informed practice and practice informed research to promote SENCOs as leaders. Invited keynote address Joint Managerial Body (JMB) SEN Conference, Unlocking Potential: Support for All, Some and Few in the Secondary School: Inclusion - Intervention – Innovation. Dublin. Video recording can be accessed here:
  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2019). ‘Leading Learning for All, Some, and Few: Provision Mapping as Process and Product.’ Invited speaker Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) Annual Conference for Principals and Deputy Principals, Carlow.

International and National Peer-Reviewed Conferences

  • Fitzgerald, J., Lynch, J., Martin, A. and Cullen, B. (2021). ‘An Exploration of Systems Promoting Inclusive Leadership In Irish Post-Primary Schools’. Inclusive and Supportive Education Conference (ISEC): Closing the Research to Practice Gap. UCL Institute of Education London. August 3-5 (Virtual).
  • Holland, M. and Fitzgerald, J. (2022). ‘Getting into the nucleus of the school’: Experiences of collaboration between Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators, Senior Leadership Teams and Educational Psychologists in Irish post-primary schools.’ ESAI Annual Conference: Reconstructing Education: what matters? April 7/8 2022 (Virtual).
  • Fitzgerald, J., Lynch, J., Martin, A. and Cullen, B. (2021). ‘Leadership for Inclusive Education in Schools: The Role of Provision Mapping in Promoting a Whole School Approach’ ESAI Annual Conference: Possibilities in Education. March 25/26th (Virtual).
  • Fitzgerald, J., Lynch, J., Martin, A., and Cullen, B. (2020, January).  Schools As Adhocracies: An Exploration Of Organisational Systems Promoting Inclusive Leadership in Irish Post-Primary Schools. Paper accepted for oral presentation at International Symposium entitled: ‘Leadership for Schools Serving Marginalized Communities – Part I: Comparative Perspectives from Africa, Australia, and Europe’. International Congress of School Effectiveness and Improvement, Marrakech, Morocco, January 6th -10th 2020.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (January 2019). ‘Leading Inclusive Special Education in Mainstream Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: An Exploration of the SENCO Role’. Paper Presented at International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement, Stavanger, Norway.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (April 2018) ‘Looking at Our SENCOs: Leading Learning for Students with Special Educational Needs in Post-Primary Schools’. Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) Annual Conference, UCD, Dublin.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018). ‘Leading a Whole-School Response to Inclusive and Special Education in Post-Primary Schools. Invited speaker Education and Training Board Ireland (ETBI) Induction Conference for newly appointed Principals and Deputy Principals, Mullingar.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (September 2018). ‘A job that doesn’t exist’: Isn’t it time to conceptualise the SENCO role in post-primary schools?’. Irish Learning Support Association (ILSA) Annual Conference, Carlow.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2017) ‘Leadership in Inclusive Special Education: A Qualitative Exploration of the SENCO Role in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland’. Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Annual Conference and Expo, Boston, USA.
  • Fitzgerald, J. (2015) ‘Special Educational Needs Coordinators in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: An Exploration of the Role’.  British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference, Belfast.
  • Fitzgerald, J., O’Sullivan, S. (presenting authors), Daly, P., Ring, E., Egan, M., Griffin, C., Long, S., McCarthy, E., Moloney, M., O’Brien, T., O’Byrne, A., Ryan, M. and Wall, E. with Madden, R.  Research Associate (2015) ‘Teaching and Learning for High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Ireland: A National Evaluation of Provision’. American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, Chicago.


More information

Brief Biography

Johanna  taught in various educational settings both in the UK and Ireland and in a variety of teaching roles for eleven years before being seconded to the SESS as an Assistant National Coordinator with responsibility for the post-primary sector. Since her secondment to the SESS in 2006, and her subsequent appointment to Mary Immaculate College in 2011, she has been involved in the design and delivery of initial teacher education and continuing professional development relevant to inclusive and special educational needs. 


  • Bachelor of Education
  • Professional Master of Education
  • Master of Education in Special Educational Needs
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs
  • Professional Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology

Advisory/ Reference/ Expert Groups

  • EPSEN Legislation Review: Steering Committee member. 
  • Joint Managerial Body (JMB),  Chairperson of the SEN Advisory Group.
  • ETBI Inclusive Education Task Group (Provision Mapping Project)

Community Engagement

  • MIC SENCO Forum: In 2015 Johanna established the Forum with support from the Limerick Principals and Deputy Principals Association. Underpinned by evidenced-based frameworks supporting sustainable professional learning for teachers (Communities of Practice and Professional Learning Networks), the Forum provides networking and professional learning opportunities for SENCOs in the mid-west region.
  • UCC/ MIC and CESC SENCO Forum for post primary SENCOs and SETs.  

Postgraduate Supervision

Doctoral Research Supervision (currently not accepting new doctoral students)


  • Supervisor Sarah Gallagher: PhD Project Title: Leadership in Inclusive Education in Irish Primary Schools: An Exploration of the Role of the SENCO.
  • Supervisor Deirdre Barry: Prof Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology. Project Title: The Transition to Post-Primary School in Ireland from the Voices of Children with Specific Learning Disabilities or Mild General Learning Disabilities.
  • Co-supervisor (lead) Katie Chapple: Structured PhD. Project Title: Enhancing a Culture of Learner Voice in the Irish Post-Primary School.
  • Co-supervisor (joint) Emma O'Sullivan: PhD. Project Title: An exploration of the well-being of leaders of inclusion (Principals and SENCOs) in Irish primary schools.


  • O’Keeffe, A. (Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology 2019). An examination of the effect of green exercise and nature connectedness on the psychological well-being and attentional capacity of primary school-aged children. Co-supervisor, Dr Paul Mulcahy, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, Mary Immaculate College.
  • Walsh Hurley, D. (M Ed in SEN 2021). 'An investigation into the role of SENCOs in Leading and Managing a Systematic Whole School Approach to Special and Inclusive Education in Irish Post-Primary Schools'. 
  • Sweeney, E. (M Ed in SEN 2019). 'An exploration of ASD special class teacher perspectives of their role in Irish primary school contexts.'
  • Mannion, N. (M Ed in SEN 2017). 'What is the impact of explicit teaching of wellbeing on students’ behaviour in a special school setting?'
  • Delahunty, T. (M Ed in SEN 2016). 'How have the Quality and Qualifications of Ireland (QQI) Programmes Impacted on the Educational Experiences of Senior Students with Mild General Learning Disabilities in Irish Special Schools?'
  • Daly, L. (MA in Educational Psychology 2016). 'Teachers’ Perspectives of Their Role and the Role of Educational Psychology in Supporting Student Mental and Emotional Well-Being: An Exploratory Study.'
  • Higgins, E. (MA in Educational Psychology 2014). 'An Examination of the Impact of a Whole Class Literacy Intervention Programme ‘Literacy Lift-Off’ in an Irish Primary Classroom.'
  • Sheehy, M. (M Ed in SEN 2015). 'Learning Pals: A study of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) to support the development of mathematical skills in a multi-class rural Irish school.'
  • McNamara, S. (M Ed in SEN 2014). 'What impact does an inclusive mathematics comprehension intervention have upon the levels of attainment in problem-solving with children of all abilities in second and third class in a rural mainstream primary school?'
  • O’Connor, M. (M Ed in SEN 2012) An Investigation into how a positive Approach to Mathematics will Change the Attitudes of Children with Special Educational Needs and Their Parents Towards Maths in a Typical Rural Irish Primary School.