Fórsa commenced a new national campaign this week to highlight the value of the role of special needs assistants (SNAs) after the education department turned down the union’s claim for a new minimum qualification.
The SNA qualification has not been altered since 1979, and Fórsa wants it to be replaced with a relevant QQI level six qualification, or the equivalent. Many schools already seek a level six qualification, and don’t appoint new SNAs unless they hold a level five award.
In a letter sent to the union late last week, the department said there was no need to change the qualification.
In an earlier submission to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Fórsa said Ireland was out of step with international standards, as many other countries require candidates for SNA posts to have a college diploma or level six equivalent qualification.
The union’s head of education, Andy Pike, said the union’s 12,000 SNA members will now take part in the #RespectforSNAs campaign, to gain recognition and respect for the role of SNAs by establishing a new entrant qualification that reflects the complexities of the role. Click here to find out more about how you can take part in the campaign.
“The refusal of this claim by the education department demonstrates lack of respect for SNAs and the essential work they carry out in our schools.”
Andy said the department did concede that a review might be necessary at some point in the future, given the length of time since the qualifications were set. “But it hasn’t committed to any timescale, nor does it accept that a level six qualification is desirable, preferring instead to leave decisions to individual schools,” he said.
The first stage of the campaign will take place on social media, and will seek support and endorsements from parents associations, boards of management, school principals, teaching unions, advocacy groups and other stakeholders.
The next phase will commence at the start of new term in September, when SNAs will lobby elected representatives and stage a series of public events.
In its WRC submission, Fórsa highlighted that the minimum educational qualification for SNAs has not been reviewed or changed since the statutory SNA scheme was first established.
Andy said the role of SNAs had changed considerably since then, and most SNAs have educational achievements well above the current requirement for three Junior Certificate passes.
“Many SNAs hold qualifications at degree level, and most have achieved at least a level six qualification. More than 60% of the 500 SNA students on the current UCD training course have already achieved a minimum qualification of level six,” he said.
Andy said that the department has informed Fórsa that it would not be reviewing a decision not to accredit the UCD training course until the current students complete the programme. He added: “This means that 500 SNAs will complete the course without receiving an accredited UCD qualification. However, programmes for groups such as healthcare staff, social care staff and teachers are routinely accredited.
“UCD has said the SNA training course should be accredited at level six or level seven, yet the department refuses to give SNAs the recognition they deserve for completing the programme,” he said.
The union issued a special bulletin to its SNA members on 29th June to inform them of the department’s decision, and provide information about how to support and take part in the campaign.