More than 1,000 extra special needs assistants allocated for next year

Bruton says investment ensures every child who needs support can access it

Minister for Education Richard  Bruton said the new allocations will see the total number of SNAs rise to more than 14,100 by the end of the current school year. Photograph: iStock

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the new allocations will see the total number of SNAs rise to more than 14,100 by the end of the current school year. Photograph: iStock

 

More than 1,000 extra special needs assistants are to be allocated next year to help ensure all children who require support can access it.

The investment reflects the growing participation of children with special needs in schools, along with greater awareness of conditions and a rising child population.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said a total of 130 additional special needs assistants (SNAs) are being made available for allocation to schools between January and June 2018.

The remainder will be made available in the next academic year, beginning in September 2019.

Mr Bruton has also announced that schools will be informed of their allocation for the 2018/19 school year much earlier in the year – May next next – instead of late summer.

The move was welcomed by the Special Needs Parents Association which said it would provide much greater certainty for children, parents, schools and SNAs.

Mr Bruton said the new allocations will see the total number of SNAs rise to more than 14,100 by the end of the current school year.

“This investment ensures that every child that needs SNA support can get one,” Mr Bruton said.

“I secured an additional €30 million in Budget 2018 to fund the continued development of the SNA scheme with more than 1,000 additional SNA posts being provided for from that funding.

“Furthermore, I have listened to the concerns of schools and of special needs assistants themselves and we are now ensuring that SNA allocations are done earlier in the year, to give certainty to school communities for the following school year.”

Investment in special education – at about €1.7 billion – now accounts for a fifth of the overall education budget.The SNA scheme accounts for almost €470 million of this.

The increased investment comes despite concern from the Department of Public Expenditure over the scale of special education spending.

Rapidly escalating costs

Internal briefing material prepared for Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe ahead of the 2018 Budget expressed alarm over “rapidly escalating” costs.

It also stated that special education expenditure was growing at a “concerning rate” and called for a prompt review of the special needs assistant (SNA) scheme.

A comprehensive assessment of the scheme is currently being undertaken by the State’s advisory body on special education, in consultation with other relevant departments and State agencies.

It is tasked with identifying the most appropriate form of support options to provide better outcomes for students with special educational needs, having regard to the “significant amount of State investment in this area”.

The assessment is expected to be finalised and submitted next year.

The estimated total number of special needs students across school settings has increased by 21 per cent since 2011.

The number of SNAs has increased by 32 per cent, from 10,575 to 13,990 since 2011.

The number of special classes has increased by 120 per cent, with over 600 new special classes opened since 2011, bringing the total number of such classes to over 1,100.

There are 700 more children with special needs entering third level now than two years ago, up 31 per cent.