SNAs to be allocated to schools based on social profiles

Pilot scheme breaks link between a diagnosis and access to special needs assistants

Under the pilot project, SNAs will be automatically provided to schools at the start of the school year based on their profile rather than number of pupils diagnosed with disabilities. Photograph: iStock

Under the pilot project, SNAs will be automatically provided to schools at the start of the school year based on their profile rather than number of pupils diagnosed with disabilities. Photograph: iStock

 

Special needs assistants (SNAs) will be automatically provided to schools at the start of the academic year rather than waiting for an individual student’s disability diagnosis, under a new pilot scheme.

At present, tens of thousands of SNA posts are allocated to schools based on professional reports which identify pupils’ additional care needs arising from a range of disabilities.

The new approach will break the link between the existence of a diagnosis of a disability and the allocation of SNA support.

It is due to be piloted in 75 primary and secondary schools in the Kildare, Wicklow and south Dublin area in the coming academic year.

School profiles will be based on indicators such as whether the school is in a disadvantaged area, gender breakdown and the outcomes of standardised tests.

Department of Education officials say this approach will provide greater autonomy for schools in the use of resources, taking account of individual needs of pupils as opposed to being based primarily on a diagnosis.

An appeals mechanism will be included to deal with exceptional cases in schools.

If successful, it could prove to be a model for schools right across the State.

School inclusion model

The move forms part of a new €4.75 million “school inclusion model” aimed at boosting supports for students with special or additional needs.

In addition to “front-loading” allocations of SNAs, they will have access to a new training programme to support students with additional care needs.

The training will, in particular, emphasise the need for students to develop independence and resilience.

Other elements of the new approach will include:

A new national nursing service for children with complex medical needs. This is aimed at supporting children with epilepsy or cardiac problems, for example, who may require the administration of medication through catheters and tracheostomies to attend school;

Greater access to the National Educational Psychological Service, especially for students with complex educational needs;

Regional support team for schools featuring speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and behaviour support practitioners.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the new research-based package of education and health supports would be evaluated during the 2019/20 school year. “Inclusion and access are a core value of our education system,” Mr McHugh said.

“We want every child to have the opportunity to learn and develop as well as they can and to get the supports they need to do that.

“The trial of this innovative school inclusion model will test and evaluate broader and more holistic education and health supports for children with special and additional care needs.”

The fact that a formal diagnosis would not be needed for access to special needs assistant support was a new milestone, Mr McHugh said.

“This is an important step towards a needs-based model, similar to what we have in the allocation of special education teachers,” Mr McHugh said.

Consultation

However, Fórsa, the trade union which represents SNAs, has demanded “immediate consultation” on Government plans to change arrangements for the service.

It said the plans would allow individual schools to impose “new and untested arrangements” without consultation.

The overall approach is the result of collaboration across the Departments of Education, Health and Children, as well as the National Council for Special Education and the Health Service Executive.

It builds on a one-year pilot which began in September 2018 providing speech and language therapy and occupational therapy support in 150 schools and preschool settings.

The model is considerably expanded on this initial pilot, and will be offered to the 75 schools that participated in this initial work.