A voluntary national training programme for special needs assistants is to be introduced, trade union Fórsa has confirmed.
Fórsa's head of education, Andy Pike, said the programme would allow the trade union to take the “first significant step” towards “professionalising” the role of the SNA within the schools' sector.
Mr Pike was speaking at the start Fórsa's education division three-day conference taking place in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan.
The education division, the third largest within Fórsa, represents almost 12,000 education workers, including SNAs, secretaries and administrative staff.
Mr Pike said the “front-loading” of SNA posts on a two to three year cycle provided the possibility for the first time of permanent SNA posts.
“There are some genuine opportunities to improve the standing of SNAs in the schools' system once the new schools' inclusion model is agreed and rolled out over the next few years,” he said.
Much remained unclear as the Department of Education had not yet developed firm detailed proposals on issues such as the new nursing service and the nature of the SNA training programme.
Mr Pike said Fórsa would seek to negotiate a new contract for SNAs if it believed the schools' inclusion model required members to assume new responsibilities.
“No employer would expect any union to agree to the introduction of a new role without fully examining the case for reviewing the pay and conditions attached to that new job,” he said.
Mr Pike also called for improved educational supports for the increasing number of school students with disabilities.
Also, more resources needed to be invested in education if Ireland was to succeed in implementing the UN Convention of the Rights of Disabled Persons.
Fórsa said it raised the need for extra resources with the National Disability Authority and the Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath, at the launch of their Disability Rights Network earlier this month.
The union's membership in the education sector has increased by more than 10% over the last two years.