Special education spending “an investment, not a cost,” says SNA union

Spending on special education is an investment, not a cost, according to the union that represents the country’s special needs assistants (SNAs). Responding to media reports of “alarm” in Government over the cost of special education, IMPACT official Barry Cunningham said ministers should be proud, rather than alarmed, that Ireland is now spending more on special education than in the past.

Mr Cunningham said this morning’s report, in the Irish Times, carried all the hallmarks of pre-budget kite flying. “SNA’s are rightly concerned that the focus of the leak was entirely on costs, with no reference to improved educational outcomes or the rights of children with special needs.

“The Government and its officials should be proud, not alarmed, that we are spending more on special education than in the past. This is an investment in our children and our schools, which is paying dividends as more and more of our citizens are being equipped to contribute to our economy and society,” he said.

IMPACT said there had been a 4-5 year period of stagnation in SNA funding and provision during the economic crisis, despite growing unmet need. And it said SNAs had not been consulted on a “new system” of allocating SNA resources, which is referenced in today’s newspaper report.

Mr Cunningham said access to education for children with special needs had been radicalised as a result of the SNA scheme. “The education department appears to be spinning a ‘new model,’ yet the people who use and deliver special education supports have not been consulted at all. This looks like an entirely cost-driven initiative, and we are determined to guard against any changes that will take away a child’s life-changing right to have their needs assessed and get the supports they depend on,” he said.

IMPACT also called for the recommendations of a January 2016 joint Oireachtas committee report into the role of SNAs to be taken into account in any review of special education provision. Among other things, the report recommended improved continuous professional development for SNAs.

The Oireachtas report also called on the education department and the National Council for Special Education Needs “to consider the potential benefits for students and the wider classroom of using the wide range of skills possessed by Special Needs Assistants which may aid in the learning process and management of the classroom.”