Extra 975 special needs assistants to be hired by September

Taoiseach pledges annual decision on SNA jobs will be made ‘well in advance’ in future

Taoiseach also pointed out that 20 per cent of the education budget goes on special education

Taoiseach also pointed out that 20 per cent of the education budget goes on special education

 

Almost 1,000 additional special-needs assistants are to be appointed by the start of September, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.

The Taoiseach said the Cabinet decided on the extra 975 assistants at its weekly meeting on Wednesday morning.

The Cabinet also agreed that the process on the provision of special-needs assistants would not be decided so late in the school year but would from now on be done as part of the normal estimates process in October.

People would now know well in advance of the new year, and schools and assistants will be informed this week, he said.

During the Dáil sitting, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald highlighted the delay in deciding the allocation of assistants for September.

Ms McDonald said they were over a month behind in the allocation and parents were at their “wits’ end” over the delay while special-needs assistants were left worrying about their future. She said assistants help children feel safe and secure in the classroom.

Delays meant schools were not in a position to make plans or prepare pupils for the next school year and principals were not in a position to tell assistants if they have a job for the next school year.

She said an assistant had written to her that “every year it’s the same old story of uncertainty” and not knowing.

She said they needed answers and stability for their future.

Rising budget

Mr Varadkar said the Government was “absolutely committed” to special needs and had shown proof of that.

The budget for special education had risen by 32 per cent to €1.68 billion.

He said there were currently 13,000 assistants, up 23 per cent from the 10,000 in 2011. “There are more special needs assistants than, for example, gardaí,” he said.

The Taoiseach also pointed out that 20 per cent of the education budget goes on special education.

Speaking later at a press conference in Government Buildings, Minister for Education John Bruton said he “hopes” to be able to make the allocations at an earlier stage next year.

“We hope next year to have a more robust system where we can use the NCSE [National Council for Special Education] models for predicting the need to identify an allocation that would be made in the normal [October] estimates allocation,” he said. “For the coming year we hope that we will be better-placed to predict in advance those needs and to model it and fund it in advance.”

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne TD accused the Government of leaving assistants “in limbo” due to the delay in allocations.

“The situation is creating unnecessary hardship as things have been left down to the wire. I expect that many SNAs cannot live with this unemployment uncertainty and are making plans for alternative employment for next year,” he said in a statement.