Its education spokesman, Charlie McConalogue, was responding to Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s announcement of a review of the system in which SNAs look after pupils’ care needs in schools. She needed Cabinet approval this week for 610 more SNAs than an existing limit on their numbers to be appointed for the coming school year, following an unexpected rise in children qualifying for their help.
While the 11,820 SNAs sanctioned for September is 12% more than in 2011, concerns have been expressed that growing numbers are not enough to keep pace with increases in children needing their care.
Mr McConalogue said the announcement of a review at the same time Ms O’Sullivan allocated additional SNA posts raised serious questions about her commitment to these new posts into the future.
“It is extremely important that the minister fully endorses these SNA appointments and is not using them as a one year only election gimmick,” he said.
“These posts are integral in the educational development of children with special needs.
“However this Government does not have a good track record when it comes to special needs education given that it cut resource teaching hours and has been slow in approving additional SNA allocations to cope with increased demand.”
Part of the review’s work will be to assess what led to the significant jump in children qualifying for assistance.
The Department of Education and National Council for Special Education will also examine whether the SNA scheme is meeting its objectives and that best use is being made of the investment. Similar issues were probed in a value-for-money review by the department four years ago.
A spokesman for Ms O’Sullivan said the timescale of the latest review was not clear as the terms of reference that have yet to be agreed would determine the amount of work involved.
“We appreciate we are making allocations later than planned this year, and schools are already on holidays. We will be looking to see if we can do something about that, maybe an earlier system of notification, so we can bring back the allocations by a number of weeks,” he said.
The Oireachtas education committee has been undertaking a separate examination of the role of SNAs, and a hearing last week was told of concerns that they are still being wrongly assigned in some schools to duties other than the physical care of students.