Hundreds of SNAs to be cut next year

SCHOOLS will have hundreds fewer special needs assistants (SNAs) to meet the care needs of disabled pupils from September following a major review of the service.

One of the measures to achieve the cut will see an end to the allocation of SNAs to children with behavioural issues starting junior infants, except where the behaviour is extremely challenging or dangerous.

But teachers have warned that major disruption will be caused to other young pupils if children with behavioural problems that require care are not supported from the day they start school.

“Schools should not have to wait until the education of all children is affected before the Department of Education is willing to act,” an Irish National Teachers’ Organisation spokesperson said.

The department has already breached a cap on the number of SNAs for this year by 227, mostly because of a commitment to provide posts to 13 new schools for children with autism. But as well as promising to revert to the 10,575 limit by year’s end, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn’s officials and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) are holding back 475 SNA posts.

They will only be allocated in the next school year in emergency cases to children who start after September or are newly assessed with a disability or syndrome.

The measure comes as a value-for-money review of the SNA scheme shows that primary and secondary level schools had 27% more SNAs than they should have had, and a 10% over-allocation was found in special schools.

Last year, the NCSE found that more than 1,700 posts were no longer required because the pupil they were allocated to had left the school or their care needs had reduced.

Last year, more than 13,000 pupils had the help of an SNA in mainstream schools, almost 9,900 of them at primary level. The number of SNAs in schools rose from less than 3,000 a decade ago to 10,802 at present, at a cost of €348 million this year.

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