The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) published its report of the review of the SNA scheme at the end of May. Fórsa, which represents 8,500 SNAs nationwide, took part in a consultation as part of the review.
The NCSE is seeking an additional €40m investment into the service to implement the recommendations of the review.
The review describes the SNA scheme as “sensitive”, highlighting the high value placed on the service by schools, parents, children and the wider school community.
The scheme supports 34,670 students, facilitating mainstream school participation with 13,969 SNA posts, with one SNA for every 2.48 students accessing the service.
The review found that the service is particularly effective for younger children, with strong evidence of very strong loyalty and attachment between schools, students, parents and SNAs.
Gaps in the system
Among its findings, the NCSE review confirms that there are long waiting lists for assessments to access SNA support and inconsistency in the availability of therapy reports.
It points to the relatively low qualifications for entry to the SNA grade and - as Fórsa has consistently highlighted - that there’s no training provided, required or funded by the department. The NCSE says this is inadequate.
The review spoke to a broad range of stakeholders in the school community, and among the problems raised were the inappropriate duties assigned to SNAs and, problems associated with SNAs being given a teaching remit in some schools. Looking at similar schemes in other countries, all seem to be struggling with demand placed on the service.
The NCSE’s main piece of advice to the Minister for Education and Skills is that a new inclusion model is required.
The NCSE has recommended what it describes as a new ‘expert model’, with 230 experts across 10 NCSE regional teams, including teachers, special education needs organisers (SENOs), speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and behavioural practitioners.
Crucially, the new model does not require a diagnosis in order to access the service. The union has raised concerns about this change of approach, on the basis that an independent appeals system would need to be in place for families whose child might be refused the service under the new system.
The NCSE has proposed a new title for SNAs - inclusion support assistants – reflecting the role as it is envisaged under the new model, and based on the findings of the review. The recommended entry level requirement is at FETAC level 5, although the union says this should be set to at least FETAC level 6 to reflect the required skill set.
The new model places emphasis on the value of retaining and training people delivering the service, with tailored training based on needs. The review recommends the provision of therapy services (both in and outside of the school), training for inclusion support assistants, teachers and the wider school community, and an increase in educational psychology services (NEPS).
The NCSE also recommends funding and training for nursing support and behavioural practitioners in schools, as well as to provide guidance on intimate care, medical interventions, challenging behaviours and restrictive practices.
The NCSE’s report includes a separate note on SNA terms and conditions of employment (page 59 of the report document), which includes “the perceived need for clarity regarding what constitutes a full working day/week for SNAs and what duties can attach to the 72 Croke Park hours.”
The reference here to the Croke Park agreement is erroneous, and Fórsa has communicated this to the NCSE. In the next edition of our Education news bulletin (19th June), Seán Carabini’s regular SNA contract issues column will take an in-depth look at the 72 hours, and outline the union’s approach to addressing its inconsistent management in schools.
Extra content on this story:
June Action Group
The Fórsa SNA branches established a June Action Group last year. The group has agreed a strategy for assisting members who work in post-primary schools that have issues arising in the month of June. SNAs with such queries should address them to their local reps in the first instance.