Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Order of Business
Tomorrow I will launch a report that I wrote for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection based around the role of the special needs assistants, SNAs, in schools. I have been working on this for the past year and a half. I consulted comprehensively with the SNAs, trade unions, principals, school boards of management, the Department of Education and Skills, disability groups, children's groups, students and parents. Indeed, I was delighted that more than 2,500 SNAs responded to an online survey I undertook. In all, I make 13 recommendations in the report. The first point that struck me was that the minimum qualifications required at present to be an SNA in school are a mere three Ds in the junior certificate. In fact, when I looked at the survey, 99% of the SNAs in schools at present have far in excess of secondary education. Indeed, some have degrees, some have master's and a few who responded had PhDs. The level of qualification is far higher. One of my main recommendations is that we apply standardisation and demand a level of qualification to be an SNA in a school.It is striking that throughout the whole survey and report there is evidence of different standards and expectations for SNAs in schools throughout the State. Many SNAs report that they do feel respected in their work, but there were some who had concerns which will need to be addressed. I will be asking the Department of Education and Skills to take stock immediately of the recommendations in the report. One area of particular concern is the primary role of the SNA and the care needs of children. In some cases SNAs are being asked to supervise children when the teachers are out, to take the classroom and undertake duties that are not part of the SNA role. Other concerns are SNAs reporting that they are carrying out medical procedures, including catheterisation, for which they have no training. This is an urgent measure which will need to be addressed.
I welcome to the House the civic, social and political education, CSPE students and their teachers from St. Louis secondary school in Dundalk. I praise the ushers also for the excellent work they do in facilitating tours and ensuring people get in to the Houses of the Oireachtas to see its excellent work. I give a warm welcome to the CSPE class from St. Louis.