THE number of special needs assistants (SNAs) being cut from schools will not be made known until a review is completed next month, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has insisted.
Although he rejects the loss of 1,200 jobs projected by the Irish Examiner, based on the outcome of a review at almost a quarter of the country’s 4,000 schools last summer, the minister said it would be wrong to disclose the number of SNA positions already axed.
The review to determine if all special needs children with SNAs still need the same level of support began last April and was just one-third complete by early December, but all jobs identified as not required were cut from the end of January.
The figure of almost 1,200 out of around 10,500 SNA posts in place last summer being at risk was based on figures from the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) on the outcome of its review at 898 schools up to June. It had resulted in recommendations that 10.4% of SNA jobs in primary schools, where there are higher levels of SNA support, and 9.8% of those in second level schools, should be cut.
Mr O’Keeffe said the projection was based on an assumption that the outcomes would be consistent from all schools being reviewed.
“I could do the same thing in terms of the next batch [of schools], which might have brought up a smaller number,” he said.
Mr O’Keeffe requested the review after a sample survey by his inspectors at around 100 schools indicated that SNAs were still employed at schools where there was reduced needs among the students or, in some cases, where there were no pupils with special needs. His department is carrying out a separate value-for-money review of SNA provision in schools.
Asked why he would not ease concerns by publishing the numbers of SNA positions being lost based on the review to date, he said that would be absolutely wrong.
“This is a very important issue, a very emotive issue for parents and an issue I want to see dealt with in a very impartial and humane way. The fairest way is to give the accurate figure at the end of the review at the end of March, and there’ll be no disputing those figures at that time,” he said.
“Under no circumstances have we changed the criteria, I just want to make sure children with special needs who deserve an SNA retain them or those kids who’re coming into the school with special needs will have the assistance of an SNA.”.
Despite questions raised about the NCSE’s ability to complete the review in that timeframe, he said he is confident it will be finished by the end of next month. It was due to have ended before Christmas.
Labour Party equality spokesperson Kathleen Lynch said the minister should not be surprised if parents seek to secure their children’s rights through the courts.
“The fact that hundreds of SNAs are being let go this week is a clear indication of where Government priorities lie and suggest that, when it comes to wielding the axe, education and services for children are seen as easy targets,” she said.
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