I wish to advise the Deputy that Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are allocated to schools by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in order to provide for the care needs of children with special educational needs attending such schools. The policy of my Department in relation to the SNA scheme is set out in Circular 07/02, which also provides details regarding the role and duties of an SNA.
SNAs and teachers have separate yet complementary roles. The class teacher is responsible for educating all pupils in his/her class, including any pupil with a special educational need. In this task, the teacher may be supported by a learning support teacher and/or resource teacher. SNAs are allocated to schools to enable them to support pupils with disabilities who also have significant care needs. The deployment of SNAs within schools is a matter for the individual Principal/Board of Management. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.
The Deputy will be aware that my Department has published a Value for Money (VFM) and Policy Analysis Review of the Special Needs Assistant scheme. This review is available on my Departments website: www.education.gov.ie. The Review has shown that the SNA Scheme has been successful in supporting schools in meeting the needs of students with disabilities who also have significant care needs. However, the review also found that the allocation process is generally not well understood within schools and by parents nor is the purpose of the Scheme fully understood. The review recommended that the SNA scheme should be restated to ensure an efficient allocation of SNA resources and to clarify the 'care' nature of the SNA role for parents, schools and professionals. However, the review did not recommend expanding the role of the SNA.
My Department has established a working group which is presently implementing the recommendations of the SNA Value for Money report. I can also advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a formal role under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 to advise me as Minister in relation to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities. The NCSE have been asked to provide comprehensive policy advice on how the education system can best support children with special educational needs. This advice will guide the preparation of a plan on how aspects of EPSEN can be implemented, including the prioritising of access to children with special needs to an individual education plan. I can advise that this advice will consider:
- the identification and assessment of children with special needs
- the nature of supports provided for children- the way in which supports are allocated to schools and
- how these supports are configured.
The advice from the NCSE is expected in the coming months. It is my intention that the significant resources to support children with Special Educational Needs are deployed to ensure the best possible outcomes for students. The advice will be a key input into achieving this goal.