Calls for immediate consultation over special education services

The trade union which represents special needs assistants has called for immediate consultation on Government plans to introduce changes in the funding and delivery of the service.

Calls for immediate consultation over special education services

The trade union which represents special needs assistants has called for immediate consultation on Government plans to introduce changes in the funding and delivery of the service.

Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, announced the trialling of a new School Inclusion Model, which he said would better support students with special educational and additional care needs.

The new pilot programme will see 75 schools at both primary and post-primary level in Kildare, Wicklow and South Dublin invited to participate in a new research-based package of education and health supports, which will then be evaluated in the 2019/20 school year.

There was €4.75m in funding announced for the model in the last Budget. It will see a new approach to how services are provided.

That includes a new frontloading allocation model for special needs assistants (SNAs), with a profiling system for Special Education Teaching to be used to allocate resources.

The Department said it is "breaking the link with the need for an assessment".

An appeals mechanism will be included to deal with exceptional cases in schools.

But the Fórsa trade union said SNAs were worried that the announcement gave the green light for the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and individual schools to impose new and untested arrangements without consultation.

It said consultation on changes that impact on working conditions is obligatory under the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), and that the service implications of any changes would also require consultation with SNAs and other stakeholders.

Fórsa official Andy Pike said there was a cautious welcome for a proposed national SNA training programme, adding there could be other benefits.

“We stand ready to work with the education department, the NCSE and schools to improve the service that thousands of SNAs provide to children with special needs each school day," he said.

But this needs to be implemented following proper consultation with SNAs and other stakeholders, who need to see more detail before a properly informed view can be established.

He said the union had recently conducted a survey with 4,000 SNAs and so was in a strong position to constructively inform plans for genuine service improvements.

Other aspects of the pilot programme include an expansion of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) to provide more intensive support, with additional psychologists to be recruited.

As well as the new SNA National Training Programme, there are plans for a new national nursing service for children with complex medical needs in schools, with a cross-agency planning group to be established to develop the scheme.

A Regional Support Team will be set up for schools in the pilot, under the auspices of the NCSE, which will include four speech and language therapists, two occupational therapists and four behaviour support practitioners. A further 19 speech and language therapists and 12 occupational therapists will deliver supports within schools.

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