Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (350)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

350. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the measures he is taking to improve working conditions, terms of employment and job security for special needs assistants in view of the precarious nature of their employment; his plans to develop a panel based on the model of the primary school supplementary panel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19496/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Special Needs Assistant (SNA) Scheme has been a major factor in both ensuring the successful integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream education and the provision of support to pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes. This support is very much valued by students, parents and schools, as they provide an indispensable service.

Increased investment has allowed the government to increase the number of SNAs by 42%, from 10,575 in 2011 to 15,000 by the end of this year. A further 950 SNA posts were provided for in Budget 2019, increasing employment opportunities in this important field of employment.

The current public service collective industrial relations agreement, known as the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA), was reached with the public service trade unions in June 2017 and is due to run to 31 December 2020. The pay benefits of the PSSA range progressively from 7.2% to 6.2% over the three years 2018 to 2020. At the end of the agreement, pay will have been restored in full to 90% of all public servants. On 24 September 2018, an agreement was reached between the Government and the public services committee of ICTU in respect of new entrant pay. This agreement will benefit nearly 5,000 SNAs within the education sector. The deal provides for a series of incremental jumps for new entrants.

There are supplementary panel arrangements in place to facilitate SNAs made redundant by one employer in filling SNA vacancies that may become available in another school/ETB. These arrangements were agreed between management and staff side representative bodies and are subject to annual reviews by these parties. The current SNA supplementary assignment panel arrangements for the 2018/19 school year are contained in Circular 34/2018 which can be accessed through the following link: http://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0034_2018.pdf. A circular in respect of arrangements for SNAs for the 2019/2020 school year will issue shortly.

Every eligible SNA remains on the panel for two years with a view to getting further employment. If they are not successful over that period of time in obtaining a further SNA position then they will be eligible for a redundancy payment in line with the terms set out in the SNA redundancy scheme (Circular 58/06). An SNA may choose to take the redundancy immediately or remain on the panel for up to two years. The SNA is entitled to trigger the redundancy payment anytime during the two years.

I announced in March the trialling of the new School Inclusion Model for the 2019/20 school year. One aspect of this new model is the development of an allocation model which would front load SNA support into schools. This model would remove the existing need for assessments for many students and would ensure the support is available to them as soon as they arrive in school. When implemented, it would also substantially further improve job security for SNAs in schools ensuring greater certainty for them in relation to their employment status.

I am committed to the continued effective operation of the SNA scheme in consultation with education partners.