Protest against special needs cutbacks

 

A PROTEST involving about 700 people against cuts to the number of special needs assistants and resource teachers’ hours took place yesterday outside Leinster House.

The demonstration was held to coincide with a vote in the Dáil on a motion put forward on Tuesday by the technical group of TDs which proposed a reversal of the cuts.

“It is unanimous amongst the technical group, which comes from all political spectrums, all sides, [that the cut] is wicked and unforgivable and unacceptable,” said Shane Ross TD, a member of the technical group.

“We are not fooled by any pleas that this is because of the IMF or the EU. It is within their power at the stroke of a pen tomorrow morning to reverse it,” he added.

Some of the groups involved in organising the protest included the Special Needs Parents Association, Down Syndrome Ireland, Impact, the United Left Alliance, the Dáil technical group and the Enough Campaign.

Speaking at the demonstration, chief executive of Down Syndrome Ireland Pat Clarke argued the proposed cuts benefited no one.

“In lots of cases they [special needs students] will not be in a position to continue in mainstream education. Ultimately we contend this is going to cost the Government more. Secondly, it is going to have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the children.”

The current cap on special needs assistants (SNAs) in schools was set by the previous government at 10,575. Currently there are 10,802 assistants and the Government has proposed to cut back to the original cap, a move which protesters say will leave some of the most vulnerable in society without the support they need.

Although a spokesman for the Department of Education said yesterday the cuts were “regretful”, he added that children with special needs would receive support.

“All schools which enrol children with significant care needs, as identified in professional reports, will have SNA support and all such children will have access to this support,” the spokesman said.

However, special needs teachers outside Dáil Éireann yesterday remained doubtful whether such a system would be workable.

“Instead of having three SNAs, they might only have one and what the Department of Education is calling it is ‘shared access’, but no one can define what that is,” said Anne-Marie Melia of St Michael’s primary school in Trim, Co Meath.

Tom Murray, also from Trim – whose daughter Eleanor has Down syndrome and recently sat her Junior Cert – said he feared for the future of children like Eleanor if the cuts were implemented.

“The educational outcomes that’ll be achieved will be far less than they are capable of attaining.

“They are going to be thrown into a dependency on the State,” Mr Murray said.

Also protesting were Traveller groups including Pavee Point and the Irish Traveller Movement, which argued that the community was being targeted as all Traveller-specific teaching resources were being got rid off.

VOICE OF PROTEST WHAT THEY SAID

Eileen Flynn Education officer with the Irish Traveller Movement.

“We are only starting to get somewhere with the education system and now it’s all cut and now there won’t be any support for any Travellers from September.

“I went on and went to college and without the supports that were there, there’s no way I would have – for a Traveller child to go into school, you’re there by yourself, it’s a challenge by itself so the Traveller kids need the extra help.”

Anne-Marie Melia Special needs assistant in St Michael’s Primary School, Trim, Co Meath.

“There might be three children in a school and they would have access to a [special needs assistant] but if you are working in one class with a special needs child and there is two children in two other classes, how do you get around to the three children?

“Instead of having three [special needs assistants] they might only have one, and what the Department of Education is calling it is ‘shared access’ but no one can define what that is. It sounds fine in theory, but it doesn’t work.”

Lisa Kelly Special needs assistant in St Senan’s Primary School, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

“My notice is being issued to me now, so in September I won’t be going back and I’ll be applying above in my local dole office and claiming Government benefits. At the moment I’m only taking out the bones of about €400 a week and by the time I claim back benefits from the Government, medical card, everything like that, they are only going to be making a tiny amount on the deal.

“Is the tiny amount of money that they are making worth what they are doing to the schools?”

Helen O’Leary Parent of an 11-year-old boy with autism.

“No mother wants to go to school and leave a child at the gates wondering if they are going to be safe. Only they [special needs assistants] do that job. They keep our children safe.

“What we are looking at here is a Government that is going to turn its back on those children that are severe.”