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Special needs challenge to minister

EDUCATION Minister Batt O’Keeffe was disingenuous in his assertion (February 1) that “we know from history that an estimate by a trade union should never be accepted as an undisputed fact in a news story”.

The minister knows well, based on correspondence sent by IMPACT to his own office, that the estimated figure of 1,200 special needs assistant (SNA) posts is based on figures released in June 2009 by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which is carrying out the review of these posts.

This review continues to take place in a post-McCarthy report environment. That report claimed there was scope to reduce the number of SNAs by up to 2,000. In that context, IMPACT’s estimate of 1,200 posts is almost conservative.

Despite efforts to get an update or clarity on the extent of job losses as a result of this review, department officials and the minister have ignored our requests.

IMPACT sought to highlight the effects of very significant job losses, and the loss of service to children with special needs, right across the country. Both are the inescapable realities of the minister’s current course of action.

In January, IMPACT wrote to the minister requesting that current arrangements be extended for affected SNA posts until the end of the school year at least in order to allow the current review to be completed. In doing so, the minister could have minimised the disruption to students in the middle of the school year.

IMPACT also told the minister that an extension of this kind would give time for the findings of the “value for money” review, a separate review which is still underway, to be considered and incorporated into any adjustment of SNA numbers.

Given the department’s frequent assertions regarding the priority of special education, it would seem logical to maintain the existing level of service until the findings of both reviews are known and any recommendations received.

The large number of SNAs who had their jobs or hours cut last week can draw no comfort from the minister’s attempts to turn the issue into a political point-scoring exercise.

He is far too eager to do a lap of honour for the growth of special education services while his party has been in government. This is in stark in contrast to his reluctance to disclose the extent of the job losses that have commenced.

The minister’s reluctance, or refusal, to offer any clarity on the total number of affected posts to date has only added to the existing level of anxiety among these dedicated workers.

It is also a cause of major concern to teachers, principals and parents, all of whom have been, or will be, adversely affected in the event of job losses on the scale that we can only estimate at present.

Niall Shanahan

Communications Officer

IMPACT

Nerney’s Court

Dublin 1


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