Fórsa has urged the education department to allow special needs assistants (SNAs) to provide a service through their existing schools in order to get around delays in transferring staff to the HSE. The implementation of an earlier arrangement, which would see SNAs reallocated to the HSE during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been held up by delays in Garda vetting.
But Fórsa this week wrote to the education department to say this problem could be circumvented if SNAs were assigned to support their allocated students through schools, under the direction of principals and special education needs (SEN) teachers. This would avoid the need for additional Garda vetting, as SNAs are already vetted to work in their own schools.
The union says guidelines are already in place to support the provision of special needs learning, and other supports, while schools are closed because of coronavirus restrictions.
In a letter to the department, the head of Fórsa’s education division, Andy Pike, said 11,000 SNAs were still waiting to start the HSE vetting process. “Service delivery through schools would be the only way to ensure that students and families receive the support they need before the school year ends,” he wrote.
Mr Pike said he also believed SNAs would volunteer to provide services during the summer break through the extension of standard provisions to provide supports in July.
“The opportunity exists to continue the provision of a service to SEN students through the summer months through the normal July provision, which could be provided for a longer period than in previous years. Fórsa would support such arrangements, and would actively encourage SNAs to volunteer for such a service,” he wrote.
Mr Pike said that, under Fórsa’s proposals, further dialogue would be needed to avoid potential confusion over the respective roles of schools and the HSE in the provision of services to SEN students.
“SNAs have co-operated fully with the reassignment process, but they have grown increasingly frustrated that they are not yet able to meet the needs of their students. We believe service delivery through schools is now the only way to ensure that SEN students receive the service they need,” he said.