Union seeks higher minimum qualifications for special needs assistants

Ireland is out of step with international standards for SNA qualifications, says Fórsa

New higher minimum qualifications should be introduced for special needs assistants, the trade union Fórsa has urged.

The union said on Wednesday it was seeking a “relevant QQI level six qualification or the equivalent to be essential criteria when new special needs assistants were taken on.

Fórsa said it would commence a new national campaign to highlight the value of the role of special needs assistants. It said this followed a refusal by the Department of Education of its claim for a new minimum qualification for special needs assistants.

The union said such minimum qualifications had not been altered since the introduction of the “childcare assistant” scheme in 1979.

Fórsa said the Department of Education had maintained in a letter last week that that the current educational requirements did not need to be changed.

Fórsa said Ireland was "out of step with international standards for the qualifications required from special needs assistants , as many other countries require candidates for special needs assistant posts to have a college diploma or certificate equivalent to a level six qualification".

Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, said the union's 12,000 special needs assistant members would "now take part in a new campaign, starting this week, to gain recognition and respect for the role of special needs assistants by establishing a qualification for new entrants to the job which reflects the complexities of the role".

“The refusal of this claim by the Department of Education demonstrates lack of respect for special needs assistants and the essential work they carry out in our schools.”

Mr Pike said the department did concede that a review might be necessary at some point in the future, given the length of time since the qualifications were set.

“But the department hasn’t committed to any timescale, nor does it accept that a level six qualification is desirable, preferring instead to leave decisions to individual schools.”

The union said since 1979, the special needs assistant role had undergone considerable changes which had not been reflected in the minimum qualification. “Fórsa presented evidence demonstrating that the overwhelming majority of current special needs assistants have educational achievements well above the current requirement for three passes in the Junior Certificate.”

“Many special needs assistants hold qualifications at degree level, and most have achieved at least a level six qualification. More than 60 per cent of the 500 special needs assistant students on the current UCD training course have already achieved a minimum qualification of level six,” Mr Pike said.