Union makes proposals to address SNA JobBridge fears

My Classroom Setup (looking west)

IMPACT has made proposals for tighter monitoring of JobBridge placements in classrooms after the union identified a “worrying and growing trend” of supplementing or replacing SNA posts with work experience placements.

In a new submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, the union said it was aware of at least 100 cases of potential displacement of SNA posts through JobBridge, which exists to give work experience to unemployed young people.

The union says only experienced SNAs can deliver maximum educational and social benefits to children with special needs. “IMPACT supports quality work experience programmes as a means of enhancing skills and providing a valuable first step into the world of work. However, some employers in the education sector are misusing JobBridge. Much greater care is needed in vetting the places on offer and ensuring that JobBridge is not used as a substitute for employment,” it said.

The union told the committee that it has provided the Department of Social Welfare with a number of possible approaches to effective monitoring of JobBridge positions.

IMPACT also called for a review of the educational and training requirements of new and existing SNAs, along with an exploration of the benefits of developing FETAC-level qualification requirements or an appropriate apprenticeship approach to improving and maintaining training standards in the role. The union wants a programme of continuous SNA professional development “to add value for children and their schools, while giving added stimulation and a greater sense of worth to SNAs.”

The Oireachtas submission also criticised the casualisation of the role of classroom-based SNAs, which is rooted in the practice of making them redundant when the child they assist leaves school, rather than allocating them to another child or placing them on a panel of experienced SNAs to be available when new needs arise. It said that it is “imperative” that a panel system, which is a requirement of the Haddington Road agreement, should be fully operational “well before the end of the 2013-2014 school year.”

And it said the practice of allocating portions of SNA posts to schools, rather than full-time SNAs, should be stopped. “As well as impacting on SNA jobs and incomes, the practice of allocating portions of SNA posts to schools, which runs counter to the terms of the Haddington Road agreement, is placing further financial and organisational pressure on schools working to educate children with special needs,” it says.

IMPACT represents over 6,000 special needs assistants across the country. Its submission says that the number of SNAs has been capped for a number of years, while demand for SNA services continues to grow. As a result, increasing numbers of children with special needs are having their care needs met by the same number of SNAs.