A new report – ‘The Role of the Special Needs Assistant’ – was launched last week (Thursday 21st January) by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. The report has recommended that SNAs should be provided with opportunities to avail of continuous professional development training relevant to their work and similar to that of teachers.
Senator Mary Moran, rapporteur for the committee, undertook the examination of the SNA role. IMPACT made two presentations to the Oireachtas subcommittee last year, based on the experience and insights of the union’s SNA members.
Senator Moran said the report compiles the common threads and issues which emerged from the consultation process, which involved thousands of SNAs. “The recommendations proposed are the issues which I deemed to be most workable and with the potential to be most easily and expediently addressed,” she said.
The report contains thirteen recommendations which Senator Moran said “seek to address the inconsistencies that are present between SNA policy and the reality of how the role is administered in schools while keeping the needs of the student to the fore,” she said.
The report confirms that many special needs assistants (SNAs) for children in schools are being required to carry out extra roles in areas such as administration, teaching and therapeutic intervention.
The report recommends that the duties and function of the SNA need to be effectively, directly and regularly communicated to parents, teachers, principals and school staff. It states “The role is subject to misinterpretation and as a result has expanded to include responsibilities which do not follow the Department of Education and Skills Circular 0030/2014.”
The recommendation also states that professional development and third level education for principals and teachers should provide training on the management and appropriate function of the SNA role in the classroom and wider school setting.
IMPACT’s deputy general secretary, Kevin Callinan, welcomed the recommendation and said it’s an issue that the union has been highlighting to the Department of Education and Skills for a number of years. “It’s important that this was recognised and addressed in the report. We also welcome the recommendation on continuous professional development for SNAs, and that SNAs should be provided with opportunities to avail of CPD relevant to their work and similar to that of teachers.
“There are a number of issues that SNAs wish to see addressed, based on years of service delivery experience, and the common thread that emerged is that continued investment in SNAs, in the form of continuing professional development, is absolutely vital to ensure the service can grow and meet the needs of the children who need the service,” he said.
Kevin added, “The huge level of participation by SNAs in the consultation process shows the level of commitment they have as stakeholders in education delivery.”
Senator Moran said “The main aim of this report is to improve the provision of SNA support for children with additional needs while attending primary, secondary and special schools. It is imperative that we recognise and address the inconsistencies which have emerged since the scheme was introduced. We need to bridge the gap between policy and how the role operates in practice.
“It was clearly recognised amongst many groups that the SNA Scheme is crucial in supporting students with additional needs in attending mainstream and special schools. It was also very clear as well that the SNA experience and the expectations set for SNAs differ greatly from school to school. In some instances the SNA role has been expanded to include administrative, therapeutic, behavioural and teaching tasks. This is no secret to many in the education field.
“Many SNAs are dedicated, resourceful and passionate about their work. They are often extremely qualified and access additional training during their own time and at their own expense. They are a valuable asset in the classroom,” she said.
Read the full report here
See a summary of the report’s recommendations here