“It’s a terrible feeling. In June you’re told ‘see you in September. I’ll give you a ring when your job comes through.’ But the call doesn’t come, and you’ve no job.”
Special needs assistant Patricia Fanning from Fórsa’s SNA North Dublin and North Leinster branch is just one of hundreds of SNAs who’ve fallen foul of the education department’s habit of publishing school SNA allocations too late.
Although the total number of SNA posts has risen significantly in recent years – from under 10,400 in 2008 to over 14,000 in 2017 – the number allocated to individual schools rises and falls in line with local needs assessments. When the allocations come late, SNAs are left wondering if they have a job come the new school year.
Fórsa efforts led to the establishment of a panel system, so that those who lose their place in a particular school can apply for other vacancies. But its effectiveness has been limited by the tardy allocations.
“When the allocations are late you can’t access the panel because you have no documentation from your school. You didn’t know you were going to need it when the year ended,” says Patricia. “Then on the 1st of September you’re unemployed. It’s an awful feeling. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she adds.
Her colleague Claire Keaveney, who chairs the Fórsa branch, says Patricia’s case is far from isolated. For the past four years, SNA allocations have been published in July, which meant that hundreds of SNAs finished the school year without knowing if they would have a job the following September.
“It’s not unusual at all. I have people coming to me in June totally panicked because they don’t know what the story is for September. It has an impact on their mortgage payments, car loans and other bills. Younger SNAs have a huge issue trying to get mortgages because their contracts aren’t definite. It’s a major problem that needs to be addressed,” she says.
Following a 97% vote in favour of industrial action last year, education minister Richard Bruton pledged that the figures would be made known much earlier in 2018 and future years.
Both women were speaking at last week’s Fórsa Education Division conference, where union deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said the education department must publish its 2018-2019 allocations by May at the latest.
Kevin welcomed the minister’s role in securing the overall 2018-2019 allocation in last year’s budget estimates as an essential first step to resolving a problem that had plagued SNAs, schools and parents for half a decade.
“But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I expect to see the allocations published as early as possible, and by May at the latest. We will not tolerate a situation where dedicated and low-paid SNAs finish the school year without knowing if their job and income is safe – and without the time to do anything about it if their post is gone,” he said.