The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) announced its overall allocation of SNA numbers for the coming school year yesterday (Wednesday). The total allocation remains the same (10,575 SNA posts) but the specific breakdown has not yet been finalised.
The Department of Education has informed all schools that new positions should not be filled until further notice. This is to ensure that the redeployment panel for SNAs, which is part of the Haddington Road Agreement, can be set up.
The priority for IMPACT is to ensure that as many of our members facing the loss of their positions as possible will find a suitable alternative post. SNAs have been in touch with the union to tell us that they are to be made redundant, and this underlines for us the urgency with which the panel needs to be established.
The union met with the Department of Education and Skills on 5th June 2013 to discuss the issue of job security for SNAs. IMPACT made it clear to the Department that we expected the Department itself, and schools, to operate the redeployment panel when it comes to filling new SNA positions for September.
We indicated that there was a duty on the Department to ensure that all SNAs notified of redundancy are identified. Furthermore, it was also imperative that all new employment opportunities (from the commencement of next school year) are similarly identified.
The Department has given an undertaking to IMPACT that it will be issuing a circular to schools in this regard very shortly.
Labour Court Recommendation
It remains the case that, had the Department acted on the Labour Court’s recommendation issued last year, the redeployment panel would already be in place, and much of the uncertainty facing many of our members now could have been avoided. Successive governments, including the current one, have strongly resisted the idea of permanent employment for SNAs. IMPACT’s response to that resistance was to campaign for a redeployment panel that would improve job security and retain experience within the SNA service.
Because of the Department’s failure to act on that recommendation, IMPACT took the opportunity to raise the issue during the ‘Croke Park II’ negotiations in February. The original Croke Park deal excluded SNAs from job security despite our efforts. However, the final agreement included the redeployment panel and, once established, this will give much greater job security to SNAs.
The creation of the SNA redeployment panel (modelled along the same lines as the teaching panel) is a breakthrough for SNAs because it will help to make their jobs more secure, creating continuity where uncertainty has been the norm. The benefit for children with special needs is that a greater proportion of SNAs will carry their experience to their next post. Nationally, the service will retain greater numbers of experienced SNAs.
For the first time ever this year, schools are being told to hold off on any attempt to recruit Special Needs Assistants for the 2013/14 school term. This is to allow for the creation of the redeployment panel for current SNAs. It’s a significant breakthrough for SNAs who, until now, faced the prospect of compulsory redundancy when the child in their care finished in their school, or if an assessment determined that the child no longer needed the service.
Preserving posts – campaigning for more
Despite the significant public spending cuts of recent years, the SNA service allocation nationally remains capped for the next academic year. IMPACT SNAs fought to retain this allocation following substantial cuts to the service in 2010.
There are two sides to this part of the SNA story. On the one hand, SNAs, through their unions, have successfully campaigned to prevent any further cuts to the allocation for the past three years. On the other hand, there’s no getting away from the reality that while the supply of SNA service remains static, demand has inevitably increased.
The population has grown, and pupil teacher ratios have increased. Demand will continue to steadily increase for many years to come. In that event, the capping of available SNA services will become a barrier for more children with special needs seeking a mainstream education. Consequently, IMPACT will continue to campaign for an increase in the annual allocation to meet that increasing demand.
The union will also stand alongside the INTO union in calling for a reversal of the decision to reduce the resource teaching allocation by 10%. This is a backward step in education and brings to 25% the overall cut in resource teaching allocation in recent years. The children who receive this vital support cannot afford to lose it, and IMPACT members will join INTO members at a demonstration outside Leinster House at 6pm on Wednesday next, 26th June, for schools affected by the latest cuts.
Defending special needs education
The creation of the SNA role in mainstream schools remains one of the most progressive achievements in education since the foundation of the state. It has changed the experience and outcomes for children with special needs, who had often previously been diverted into special education schools, away from their siblings and neighbours, and placed at an almost immediate social disadvantage as a direct result.
For IMPACT, the work of campaigning for expansion and improvement of the SNA service continues. The service itself was born out of years of campaigning by parents groups and trade unions, including IMPACT, for improved educational outcomes for children with special needs, and IMPACT is proud to continue that campaigning work.