The Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, attended the Fórsa SNA Connaught/Ulster AGM on 12th January in Donegal Town. The meeting, attended by special needs assistants (SNAs) from across the two provinces, highlighted some of the major issues that affect the working lives of our SNA members.
Assistant general secretary Seán Carabini noted members concerns about the NCSE review and the non-consultation of SNAs in the drafting process. He said the union had recently held a major engagement with SNAs on the review and now stands ready to engage with the Department of Education and Skills on the next phase.
Seán said that while the report recommends changing the SNA job title, no agreement has been reached on this and the title of SNA remains unchanged.
Highlighting the serious issue of job fragmentation, he said: “Official figures show that there are some 14,876 SNAs employed in Ireland. This is, however, the number of posts rather than the number of people.
“Many of these posts are fragmented meaning that many SNAs cannot get access to full time work. This is a particular problem for obvious reasons, and the fragmentation trend is growing.
“The Government’s Economic and Evaluation Service, in a 2016 report, noted that of all new SNA posts allocated between 2012 and 2015, a whopping 63% of them were not full time. Furthermore, this union regularly receives reports of SNAs having their hours reviewed downwards without warning.
“This level of precariousness is very difficult as it impinges on the ability of an SNA to have financial confidence that their wage will not change. If ‘frontloading’ SNAs into schools addresses this problem, as is suggested by the NCSE, then we need to talk about it. SNAs want to play their part. They simply ask that the state plays its part and looks after SNAs.”
Seán also called on the Government to allow SNAs to serve on school boards of management: “There would appear to be no legal barrier to SNAs serving on school boards of management, though it very rarely happens. This is largely because the governance manual for schools does not make it clear that SNAs are allowed to serve.”
Seán advised Minister McHugh that the guidelines expire this year and new guidelines will have to be introduced. “We ask that the Department allow for SNAs to serve on boards of management of schools. In many cases, there are more SNAs than teaching staff in schools, yet the SNAs will not have a representative on the boards of management,” he said.
Seán added that last year’s political forum hosted by Fórsa, which included representatives from across the political spectrum, including representatives from the Government, indicated there was goodwill toward such a move. “We ask now that it be implemented as a clear signal to the education sector that SNAs are equal and respected members of school communities,” he said.
The Minister told SNA’s that it’s his intention to ensure that SNAs must now be involved in consultations about their future.
He said: “As valued members of the education community, I want you to be sure that you have a voice in the upcoming deliberations. Change should involve full confidence. You have to be at the heart of any change.”