Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh – Priority Questions
Special Educational Needs
It is mid-May and the special needs assistant, SNA, allocations have yet to be published. SNAs across the country speak regularly about the lack of respect shown to them by the Department of Education. It is hard not to agree with them when it comes to the middle of May and the allocations for next September are not available. They must plan for their own lives and planning is required for the young people they work with, as well as their schools. Everything is still up in the air in the absence of the publication of the allocations.
I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this important matter. Suffice to say that the timeline for SNA allocations is always May. Work is ongoing at present on the SNA allocations and they will be announced this month, as promised. There will be no deviation from that, and certainty will be given to SNAs and schools in terms of their re-allocation.
We are specifically talking about the front-loading allocation. The Deputy will be aware that it was delayed as a result of Covid, and it was put back again to the 2022-23 school year. It will be in operation from September of this year. It will be a very positive development for schools and for SNAs. The Deputy says the Department has not given them much respect. The lives of SNAs will improve dramatically over the years to come. Even at present, when we look at the SNA training programme in UCD, for example, which was the first ever training programme, it is a ten-month programme encompassing five different modules.
Approximately 3,500 students are availing of it and the outcomes have been positive. We will examine what we can do for those SNAs in the future. By the end of this year, we will have 19,169 SNAs, an increase of 81% since 2011. This year, in the budget an additional 1,165 SNAs will be allocated to schools. Some 574 of those will be in special classes, 46 will be in special schools and 545 will be in mainstream schools. SNAs are critical to the lives of children in schools, whether in mainstream special class or special school.
I will be honest with the Minister of State. When I tabled this question last week I assumed the allocations would have been published by the time we discussed it. I do not need to know how many SNAs there are or how good a job they do. I need to know when the allocations will be published by the Minister of State’s Department so SNAs, schools and families can plan for September. It is not good enough to tell me the allocations are always made in May because it is not good enough that they are made in May. The Minister of State is telling me they will be made by the end of the month but second level schools effectively close up at the end of the month. Can the Minister of State give me a definitive date for when these allocations will be published? Can she give a commitment that the allocations will not be made in May next year?
As I stated in my first contribution, we indicated that the SNA allocation would take place in May, as it always does. That is the timeline for allocations and it is done on the basis of ongoing collaboration with our education partners and everybody else. The SNA allocation will be announced by 31 May. It is important to consider the front-loading model when we are talking about the profile of schools because schools are front-loaded with resources. The allocations to schools will include provision to support all pupils in the schools, including where a child will receive a diagnosis after the allocation is received by a school or even where new pupils are enrolling in the school. There are many benefits of this approach. It is also intended to ensure that the SNA posts will be in schools and available to students immediately on their arrival.
I do not think the Minister of State is hearing what I am saying. It is not good enough to say the allocation is always made in May. SNAs are telling me it is not good enough and that the same thing happens every year. They cannot plan for September. They are the last group of school workers who are ever thought of. This year, the staff schedule came out in April whereas it has come out in February in previous years. It is not good enough to tell the House this always happens in May and sure that is the way it is. Nor is it good enough to say it is going to happen by the end of this month. I would like to hear some level of regret in the Minister of State’s voice. SNAs waiting for this allocation to come out cannot plan for September because they do now know what their personal situation will be, or what will be the circumstances of the young person or child they will be working with or those of the school, school principal and school community.
Can we work towards a scenario where the allocations will not be made in May next year? Can the Minister of State give a date on which the allocations will be released? If an SNA feels disrespected by the Department, he or she will continue to feel disrespected if this happens every single year and the Minister of State shows no ambition to change the position for next year.
The Deputy needs to be aware that this decision is not solely for me, as Minister of State with responsibility for special education, or the Minister for Education to take. There are a lot of moving parts when making a decision of this nature. We have stated previously that the allocation will be made in May. That gives certainty to schools as they know an announcement will be made on the allocation for September and they can plan for that.
When the front-loading model is implemented it will improve job security for SNAs in schools because it will ensure greater certainty for SNAs in relation to their employment status as the school allocation of SNA support will not be based on an annual application process. That is important. It would enable a school to allocate SNA support to a pupil who does not have a formal diagnosed special educational need but needs support. We also have to accept that many students with special educational needs in the mainstream do not have significant care needs. They are supported through the special education teacher, or SET, allocation. Notwithstanding all of that, it is important that there is clarity for schools. That will be provided this month, as promised.