Private Members Motion on Special Needs Assistants

April 15th, 2010 - Pat Breen

My office, like that of various other Deputies, has been inundated with calls from the distraught parents of children with special needs.  Prejudice and social stigma often affect the lives of children with special needs and their families.  The introduction of the SNA scheme has helped to break the cycle of that stigma.  Everybody has reaped benefits from the integration of special needs children into mainstream classes and it has fostered a real sense of tolerance and respect for difference.  Removing that security and emotional stability now is a retrograde step and I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, who a is genuine Minister of State, to ensure this is changed and to call off the review.

  I cannot understand why the previous Minister has moved the goalposts in the middle of the school year.  If a child was assessed and a supporting case was put forward last September which acknowledged the required support, how can one justify removing the support a few months later?  Last month there was a backlog of cases for SNA positions and resource and support teachers in my constituency of Clare.  I am glad to say the position has now been filled.  I raised the matter on the Adjourment.

  However, the uncertainty continues for many families.  I am aware of several cases where SNA supports were removed from children in mainstream schools and, as a result, the parents transferred the children to a special school because they could not cope without their SNAs.  Thankfully they are now doing well in the special school.  However, the parents concerned feel the rug is about to be pulled from underneath them and, for the second time, a number of SNA positions in the school are on the verge of being axed.  The father of a special needs child attending St. Vincent‘s School in Lisnagry spoke to me recently and said if it happens he does not know how his child will survive.

  There are 261 SNAs employed in schools in Clare and, as previous speakers said, they are doing valuable work.  If these positions are axed it will affect the overall development of a special needs child, in particular during the vital early years when early intervention is essential.  The previous Minister for Education and Science claimed that there is no question of SNA posts being removed from schools where they continue to meet the scheme’s criteria.  However, the kernel of the problem is the strict evaluation criteria under which the review is being conducted takes no account whatsoever of the child’s needs, in terms of access to the curriculum.  Instead, it only serves to further stigmatise the child by focusing on his or her disability.

  The dreams and hopes of parents and their special needs children will only be realised if they are given a fair chance.  I appeal to the Government Deputies, many of whom spoke during the debate, including Deputies O’Connor, Conlon and Gogarty, to vote with their consciences.  I support the motion and call for an end to the plans to cull special educational needs assistance in schools.