SNAs working throughout our schools system were informed yesterday, through media reports, that their posts in mainstream classes would be retained for the coming school year 2021/22.
The Department of Education issued a statement confirming there will be no change to the model of allocation of special needs assistants in mainstream classes for the 2021/22 school year, with the existing allocation (as of 30th April 2021) rolled over into 2021/22.
Fórsa’s head of Education Andy Pike said this measure affects roughly two thirds of the 17,000 SNA posts within schools, without any increase in SNA posts for the second year in succession.
Andy said the remaining third of the SNA posts within special education schools classes are still not secure, as the allocation of posts in these settings will not be announced until the end of May: “The allocations to special education schools classes are still subject to change, which means that SNAs are at risk of losing working hours or being made redundant, depending on changes to the assessed level of need within the student population.
“The number of students enrolling in schools with additional education needs is increasing. Freezing the number of posts in our mainstream classes will further stretch resources and reduce the level of support available to students studying in mainstream classes. Schools can apply for an increase in posts through a review procedure that invariably fails to meet the needs of schools and students,” he said.
The additional 990 new SNA posts announced by the Government are to be allocated to developing new schools and new special education classes. Andy said that Fórsa believes that special education schools and classes should also have the same guarantee as given for mainstream classes that their SNA posts will not be reduced. He said the additional 990 posts announced should complement existing provision, and that no SNA should be at risk of cuts to working hours or redundancy.
The department’s statement also confirmed that the introduction of the ‘frontloading’ model, which would introduce a three-year allocation of posts to schools, will be deferred to the commencement of the 2022/23 school year. The department said it had not been possible to provide the necessary information and training to support the implementation of the new model in schools during the pandemic.
The Government announced the expansion of summer provision programmes with increased funding to facilitate the participation of more schools. Fórsa has welcomed this development but noted there are still several disincentives which may reduce the number of schools willing to organise programmes. These include difficulties finding staff and difficulties vetting potential staff.
Andy said: “The fact that payment for this work is made in November, some four months after the work is performed, also reduces participation to those who can afford to wait that long to be paid.
“While the Department of Education is seeking a resolution to that problem this has not yet been finalised and must be put in place to ensure staff are paid within a reasonable period of time,” he said.
Andy expressed the frustration of SNAs nationwide that journalists had been briefed by the department’s special advisors before consultation with staff, with initial reports appearing in the media last weekend and described the approach as a “dysfunctional way of administering the education system.”
Andy added: “The approach peaks volumes for the lack of respect demonstrated towards those providing the service, and their students, and does not bode well for the proposed rollout of the ‘Frontloading’ allocation model, which has still to be agreed.”