Special Education Needs Organisers – a briefing for Oireachtas members
Dear Senator,

As we enter the summer hiatus, you’ll be aware that there is a huge amount of preparation taking place for the next academic year.

Among those who undertake this work are the Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) who manage the delivery of the special needs assistance service to schools. The service provided by SENOs is integral to the planning of the academic year for each school and the careful management of the overall SNA (special needs assistant) allocation.

In recent years we have seen a welcome increase in the SNA allocation, which coincides with a substantial increase in the school-going population, which is set to continue growing over the next number of years.

This is likely to place the entire education system under increasing pressure at all levels and the challenge faced, both by the Government and the Department of Education and Skills, will be considerable.

It is directly in response to these pressures that I wish to bring your attention to the growing pressure on the delivery of the SENO service.

The National Council for Special Education was instructed to reduce staff numbers over the period 2011-2014 under the Employment Control Framework.  During this period the numbers of SENOs fell from the previously authorised number of 98 to 76 at the end of 2014. To date, the fall in SENO numbers is just over 20%.

While this has led to an increase in the volume of work for each SENO, it also left some counties without a SENO.  This diminishes the original premise for the NCSE, in which SENOs were to provide a local service, with knowledge of schools, parents and agencies in their area.  

These reductions, and their knock-on effects, have occurred against a backdrop of changes to the resource and SNA allocation process, expansion of the SENO role and most significantly, increased demand for services, due to increased numbers of applications from schools for students with disabilities and SEN. 

The increasing number of children with Special Educational Needs requiring the service also brings with it an increase in the number of concerned parents with whom we interact.   

On the whole SENOs are a very committed group of professionals who are working above and beyond in order to ensure that, as far as possible, our service users do not suffer. However, as a result of the significant staff reductions, and the huge increase in demand for the service that we provide, SENOs have been to struggling to provide an adequate and appropriate service to students with special education needs, their parents and the schools. 

In 2010, and 2014, SENO staff were surveyed and asked did they ever work in excess of their contracted hours. Results indicated that, despite an increase in the hours worked per week in 2014 (as per the Haddington Road Agreement), significantly more staff were working in excess of their contracted hours in 2014 than had been the case in 2010. This is a clear reflection of the increasing demand for service as well as decreasing numbers of staff available to provide that service.

I have enclosed a comprehensive briefing document and an illustrative table to show how the ECF has affected the SENO service, and our projections of the increased demand for service that SENOs are facing.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this in detail with you in order to ensure that this vital component of education delivery is not overlooked as work to build the capacity of the entire education sector continues.

Yours Sincerely

Andy Pike

National Secretary

IMPACT trade union

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