No cuts in special needs assistant hours, Quinn insists
Minister rejects claims of cuts in special needs assistant hours from September
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn: ‘Children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming year will receive access to this support on precisely the same criteria as they did last year’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has rejected as “wrong” claims by Fianna Fáil, that there will be cuts from September in special needs assistant (SNA) hours for children who require them.
Mr Quinn said in the Dáil: “Let me be clear. Children who qualify for access to SNA support for the coming year will receive access to this support on precisely the same criteria as they did last year.”
He said “there is no cut and no changed policy decision on SNA allocations for me to reverse as Minister for Education”.
Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue insisted there was a continuing cap on the number of assistants when the number of pupils needing such support would increase by 10 per cent.
“The policy the Minister is pursuing of keeping the cap the same at a time when there is a 10 per cent increase in demand is leading to cuts,” he said. Mr Quinn insisted however “the Deputy is wrong”, and the 10 per cent increase Fianna Fail was talking about was in the last school year.
SNAs assist children with clothing, feeding, going to the toilet and supervision.
Parents protested outside the Dáil last week as Fianna Fáil introduced a private member’s motion calling for a reversal to cuts in special needs assistants. Cuts in resource teaching hours were announced but the Minister reversed that decision in the wake of protest by parents and politicians. SNAs however are not allocated on the basis of hours.
Mr McConalogue claimed yesterday “the cap is remaining the same and there is a 10 per cent increase in demand. Those are two facts. This means there is a reduction in the hours available to individual children who need to avail of an SNA.”
But, rounding on the Donegal North East TD, Mr Quinn said “I don’t know how many times I have to say to the Deputy, he has taken two statistics, seen a 10 per cent increase and presumed a that meant a similar increase in supply was required in order to meet that demand”.
He said “there hasn’t been the reduction in supply he suggests because the demand hasn’t increased as he has alleged”. The number of children needing support in September is expected to be the same as at the end of June.
Last year the National Council for Special Education said the number of children needing support for the 2012-2013 school year was about 20,000. Mr Quinn said the most up-to-date figures showed that in December 2012 there were 21,972 pupils accessing SNA support.
This was the increase Fianna Fáil was citing, he said, but that figure had been in place for six months and “the system seems to have operated perfected well and has coped with these demands over the past six months”.
The Minister added in his official reply that the council had advised him that while it had to work within the cap set by the previous government since 2010 “it has always had surplus capacity at the end of each academic year”.
He added that the National Parents Council issued a statement that parents should have no fears about the allocation of SNA support.