Fórsa will seek to renegotiate the SNAs’ contract “to establish parity with conditions of service for others in education and address long-standing problems” if a planned new model of service provision leads to increased responsibilities and work demands.
Fórsa’s Head of Education Andy Pike said the union would engage in consultation on the new ‘schools inclusion model,’ with a view to improving services to children with special needs while protecting SNAs’ working conditions.
This came after the education department belatedly agreed to consult with Fórsa.
The union believes the process may present another opportunity to address long-standing problems like the ’72 hours’ and June working.
The ‘schools inclusion model’ proposals are based on recommendations in a recent Council for Special Education (NCSE) review. Last month, education minister Joe McHugh announced his intention to pilot them in 75 schools in Kildare, Wicklow.
Fórsa has met members in the pilot schools, and intends to do so on a regular basis to find out what day-to-day changes are being proposed on a school-by-school basis. The union’s four SNA branches receive regular information on this process.
Speaking at Fórsa’s education conference last week, Andy Pike welcomed plans for a voluntary national training programme for SNAs, which would “take the first significant step towards professionalisng the role of the SNA within our schools sector.”
And he said plans to frontload allocations of SNAs to schools “could reduce the incidence of precarious employment experienced by many SNAs.” The union has frequently complained about the late announcement of annual SNA allocations to schools – which created uncertainty over service levels and job security – often late into the summer preceding the new school year.
But the union also expressed concerns that proposals to give SNA’s additional training to meet complex medical needs could undermine their role in educational support. “We need to ensure that the role remains primarily focussed on providing educational support,” said Mr Pike.
Fórsa has not accepted changes to SNA working conditions on foot of the proposals. But it did meet officials of the Department of Education and Science recently, and formed the impression that their proposals are yet to be fully formed.
Claire Keaveney of Fórsa’s North Dublin/North Leinster SNA Branch, told the conference that consultation on changes that affect working conditions is a requirement of the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).
“As a union, we have fought to maintain the value and integrity of the SNA service since it was first introduced. We have worked closely with children with special education needs, their families, and their schools, to deliver a quality experience for every child who has accessed the service.
“That experience must be recognised and valued as these changes are piloted and rolled-out. And, I have to say, we were discouraged by the way the NCSE review of the SNA scheme was conducted and published without any serious engagement with Fórsa or with SNAs.
“That failure to engage with SNAs, with their collective professional experience and skills, represents a fundamental weakness in the review itself. We need to see a change of approach. Ignoring SNAs risks undermining the service we provide to vulnerable children and, indeed, to our working conditions, which already place us among the poor relations of the school community,” she said.