The National Council for Special Education has finally released the details of SNA allocations for the 2014/15 school year. The timing of the release leaves schools with little time to answer parents queries on what level of SNA support they can expect for their child next September and puts school Principals under undue pressure with only two days left in this school year. While efforts were made over the past two years to issue the allocations early to allow time for everyone to plan ahead, it is unsettling for all concerned that such important details are published this week.
This years figures indicate that as of June 10681 SNAs were employed looking after the care needs of 23,000 children in mainstream primary, post primary and special school settings and this figure is to increase to 10,900 SNA posts. Overall, the figures indicate an improvement or stability in levels of SNA allocations for the coming year in the majority of schools, as indicated by the table below. However, this has to be viewed in the context of increased class sizes, the continuing levels of complexity presenting in children in mainstream school settings and the lack of available supports from disability services to address a multitude of needs that directly impact on a child being able to access the curriculum in a meaningful way.
Chairperson Lorraine Dempsey describes the NCSE figures on SNA allocations as initially indicating that fewer schools have had a reduction in SNA posts compared to last year but cautioned that they will not be reflective of the difficulties facing schools in managing the needs of more children with the same level of support. “Some schools have had marginal increases which can arise where children move from infants shorter school days to a full day rather than an increase based on an increase of pupils requiring SNA support. Without a more comprehensive breakdown including figures of how many children have access to SNAs in each school, we will have to rely on anecdotal evidence locally as to the increasing demand on the SNA Scheme without a school by school breakdown of figures”.
SNPA remains concerned with the capacity and skill mix in schools to be able to provide for the needs of more complex children in mainstream, while so few teachers have any additional form of training in special education and are just about coping with large class sizes. Ms.Dempsey added, “We can play around with the concept of having an Inclusive education system, but the gap between reality and neatly presented statistics is evident in the cases that we deal with every day where children remain partially excluded from schools because staff cannot meet the needs of a particular child, where parents get called in to take child home on a regular basis and cases where parents have been expected to accompany child on school outings or else the child will be excluded from going. Whether this is as a result of lack of SNA support or lack of training and ability to cope with the needs of these children in addition to 30 other pupils in a class, the results impact negatively on the child and family and this must be addressed”
SNPA has requested that the Department of Education instruct the National Education Welfare Board to provide details of the number of children currently excluded from attending school for the whole day where lack of resources have been cited as the reason. We have also requested that information from Section 29 Appeals be broken down to include the number of children with special needs taking a case from now on in order to get a grip with the extent of the problem. More crucially, SNPA has continued to make representations regarding the actual role of an SNA and whether it is time to consider an additional educational role of a Teaching Assistant to support our teachers, particularly those dealing with infants classes where it is expected that teachers have to develop and implement behavioural support plans for children with Emotional and Behavioral Disturbances without conventional care needs and in the absence of SNA support.
“We will be keeping a close eye on reports from parents in the new school year and where any difficulties present, we have impressed upon the NCSE the need to have an expeditious process in place for dealing with cases where a child needs support beyond the level of what can be provided by the class teacher alone” said Ms.Dempsey.
For further information or media queries, please contact Lorraine Dempsey.
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