SNAs can co-operate with return to school for children with special needs, says union

SNAs can co-operate with return to school for children with special needs, says union

Fórsa is to advise SNAs to cooperate with the phased resumption of in-school services to children with SEN if the Department of Education agrees to progress measures it said will “underpin” the safety of students and staff.

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) will be advised to co-operate with the resumption of services to students with special educational needs (SEN) provided there is progress on a range of further safety measures proposed by their union.

Fórsa is to advise SNAs to co-operate with the phased resumption of in-school services to children with SEN if the Department of Education agrees to progress measures it said would “underpin” the safety of students and staff.

The union’s education division has now adopted a policy paper that sets out the measures it feels are necessary ahead of a return to classrooms. 

The union said it accepted that these can’t all be put in place right away but it is seeking immediate action on measures that can be, and concrete proposals for the roll-out of the rest.

Last week, the Government u-turned on its decision to reopen special schools and classes, "pausing" the process to allow for consultation with the unions and boards of managements. 

Fórsa has now recommended the phased resumption of services, with reduced or staggered attendance in the first instance “to reduce the number of individuals on-site at any one time, whilst providing much-needed structure and stability for SEN students and their families”. 

The union also called for: 

  • A Nphet assessment of, and briefing on, the safety of staff and SEN students attending schools during this phase of the pandemic, with reference to testing data in schools and the community
  • The prioritisation of school staff for receipt of the Covid-19 vaccination.
  • Serial school-based Covid-19 testing, with priority for SNAs who cannot maintain social distancing in the classroom
  • Risk assessments prior to the re-opening of school services
  • Information on available childcare in each school, and agreed contingency plans, for those who cannot access normal arrangement

Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said that staff did not have the full confidence that schools were safe places to work and study at the moment, even though additional mitigation measures have been in place since August.

“We are calling on the Department of Education and individual schools to work with us to rebuild confidence and start the resumption of school-based SEN services as quickly and safely as possible,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it is engaging with all key stakeholders with a view to reopening schools as soon as possible, including Fórsa.

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