Review of SNA scheme as 666 extra posts approved

The scheme to provide special needs assistants (SNAs) for pupils with care needs is to be reviewed after the Government approved more than 600 extra posts for the next school year.

Review of SNA scheme as 666 extra posts approved

The reason behind a significant increase in demand is among the issues to be looked at by the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which notified schools of their SNA allocations for September yesterday.

The delay in approving posts — normally sanctioned in June — follows a higher-than-expected rise in valid applications for care support from schools.

The Government last year approved an additional 220 SNA posts for September in anticipation of rising demand in line with overall pupil number increases.

However, schools will instead have sanction for 666 more SNAs in September than the 11,154 posts in place when they closed last month, reflecting the rise in applications to the NCSE.

The 11,820 SNAs which will then be in place is almost 12% more than were available to primary and second-level schools four years ago when the Government took office, said Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

The number of SNAs that can be appointed has been capped since 2011 as part of the troika bailout, but the limit has been raised repeatedly in recent years to meet rising applications.

A further 120 SNA posts will also be available to allocate in the 2105/16 school year where new cases are brought to the NCSE. This will raise the cap on SNA numbers allowed by Government to 11,940 — 610 more than the past school year.

Ms O’Sullivan said the SNA scheme review is being carried out to ensure it is meeting its objectives and best use is made of the significant resources invested.

“Among the issues to be examined will be the reasons behind the significant increase in demand evident this year and how the timing of applications and allocations can be better aligned with the school year,” her department said.

A 2011 Department of Education value-for-money review of the same scheme found that, while it was effective in providing for the care needs of children with disabilities, more SNAs than required to meet those needs were being allocated. The role of SNAs was also being expanded within schools to administrative or educational work, but instructions on their responsibilities have since been reiterated to schools.

However, parents and schools also criticised the system as children are now only stated to have access to SNA support. This leaves it to school management to decide how each child is supported from its SNA allocation, rather than any pupil having a guarantee of full-time support for their needs.

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