Department admits circular on SNAs was ‘badly phrased’

Concern raised by schools about added ‘bureaucracy’ in applying for supports

Children from Dalkey School Project outside Leinster house yesterday where they handed in letters and a petition. Photograph: David Sleator.

Children from Dalkey School Project outside Leinster house yesterday where they handed in letters and a petition. Photograph: David Sleator.

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:00

The Department of Education has reassured parents that access to special needs assistants (SNAs) will be unaffected by a controversial circular issued to schools.

The circular has been interpreted by teachers and parents as putting fresh obstacles in the way of accessing SNAs.

‘Badly phrased’

A spokeswoman for the department admitted some passages in the circular had been “badly phrased” and might have caused concern. The department has also rejected suggestions that the document would create more bureaucracy for schools, potentially affecting access to SNAs.

The job of such assistants is to ensure students with disabilities can access school safely. They cater for non-teaching duties such as clothing, feeding, toilet use and general hygiene.

Concerns have been raised about the circular by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), which has held talks with the department seeking clarity.

In an indication of more widespread fears, a group of teachers, parents and pupils from a Dublin primary school protested outside the Dáil yesterday about what it called the added “red tape and paperwork” demanded by the circular.

Access

Miriam Hurley, principal of the Dalkey School Project National School, Glenageary, said it had lost 25 per cent of SNA staff since last year, and the application of the circular “means it will be harder for schools to access SNA support”.

Senior INTO official Peter Mullan said particular concern had been raised about a passage saying it was expected that “all primary school pupils having their first school experience will have been enrolled and have commenced attending school before any application for support will be made”.

The department spokeswoman said this “should have been phrased differently”.

“Of course, any child who needs access to an SNA to enable them to begin schooling will have access to an SNA,” she said.

Pupil plans

A second point of contention is the demand for personal pupil plans for each pupil outlining special care needs and “showing how the SNA will be deployed to assist the pupil”.

Schools are already required to draw up individual education plans for children with disabilities, and Mr Mullan said “we want to make sure there are not two separate demands being made”.