Special needs assistants play a crucial role each day in helping vulnerable students to attend school and reach their potential. As a result, any changes to the way they are allocated to schools must be fully informed, tested and understood by advocates, classroom professionals and parents.
On the face of it, a new model for allocating SNAs from next September is positive. The automatic front-loading of posts to schools means parents would no longer have to pay for a diagnosis of a disability or make formal applications. Pupils would, in theory, have speedier access to support. SNAs would also have more certainty over their employment with longer contracts. However, there is growing concern among schools and advocates for children with special needs that the new system is not ready to be rolled out and will, over time, lead to a cut in supports.
Staff need to be properly trained. Clarity is needed over supports for additional care needs
When plans for the new system were first drawn up two years ago, the Department of Education pledged to clarify what constituted children’s additional care needs, the nature of a new appeals process and how vital therapies could be provided. Advocacy groups and schools now say these issues have not been addressed in any detail. Many feel they have been kept in the dark on developments until only a few months prior to the roll-out of the changes. A very real danger now is that a partial delivery of what was originally proposed, without proper consultation or preparation, will undermine supports for vulnerable children.
Although the department insists no school will see a reduction in its SNA allocation in September 2020, what will happen after this? What kind of appeals system will be in place for parents whose children cannot access supports?
If a system which better supports schools to meet the needs of students is to be created, the current plans should be paused. Staff need to be properly trained. Clarity is needed over supports for additional care needs. There is nothing to be gained by rushing through a new system without proper evaluation and reassurance.