Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Questions (283)

Seán Haughey


283. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to a number of issues of concern to special needs assistants (details supplied); the measures he plans to take to address these concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24146/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme – A New School Inclusion Model to Deliver the Right Supports at the Right time to Students with Additional Care Needs was published by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) on 30 May 2018.

The review found that the SNA scheme was working really well particularly for younger children and for certain types of care needs, for example, mobility and toileting.  It also found that a new and more widely based model of support involving both education and health supports was needed to meet the range of student need currently presenting in our schools. The review made a number of recommendations including the way SNA support is allocated to schools and the need to build school capacity through training. 

The NCSE concluded that a better model of support was required, one which provides the right support at the right time provided by a range of personnel with relevant qualifications and skill sets.  The review recommended a new school inclusion model where the response by the State to the additional care needs for students in our schools would be broadened and better tailored to individual needs.

On 27 March I announced the trialing of the School Inclusion Model in 75 schools for the 2019/20 school year.

One feature of the School Inclusion Model is the development of a frontloaded allocation model of SNAs.  Frontloading SNA support eliminates the need for an individual assessment for each student, ending the link with the requirement for a formal diagnosis to gain access to support, and will reduce the delays in making supports available to schools. The proposed arrangements when implemented will also improve job security for SNAs in schools ensuring greater certainty for SNAs in relation to their employment status.

In conducting their review, the NCSE consulted widely and consultation will continue to be a central feature of the development and implementation.  Over 50 people including SNAs and their representatives attended an information and consultation event on 30 April 2019.  Further consultation is being undertaken directly with the Forsa union. 

My Department published the Circular (number 71/2011, see below) concerning Croke Park Hours for SNAs, however, it does not get involved in the local management of how schools (as the employers) arrange the delivery of the hours from their staff (including SNAs).  However, point 9 of Appendix 1 of this circular does provide possible examples (not exhaustive listing) of the type of work that maybe undertaken by SNA’s to meet their Croke Park hourly obligations.

Link to DES Circular 71/2011 is as follows: http://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0071_2011.pdf

Where a full-time SNA post within a school is reduced to a part-time post, the issue of redundancy payment in respect of the loss of hours may arise.  Redundancy arrangements for SNAs are set out in Department Circular 0058/2006.

Where a school/ETB has an additional allocation of SNA hours/posts then that additional allocation of hours/posts must be offered to an existing part-time SNAs in that school, in order of seniority, before the employer has recourse to these arrangements. This means that before an employer opts to recruit a further person as an SNA(s), they must ensure that all existing part-time SNAs in their employment, in order of seniority, have been offered a full-time position in the school or, in the case of ETBs, a full-time position in a school within the ETB scheme. The only exception that can be made to this rule is where a school/ETB has a determination in writing from the NCSE / SENO stating that their allocation must be split amongst a specific number of SNAs and/or stating that the allocation must be implemented in a specific fashion to address the care needs of the pupil(s). These arrangements are set out in Department Circular 0030/2019 published on 22 May 2019, which is available via the following link: https://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/cl0030_2019.pdf 

The position on working hours for SNAs is that there are no nationally set working hours for full-time SNAs. In this regard, the contractual position in respect of the working hours of SNAs is as outlined in their contracts of employment which were agreed with the school management authorities and the relevant Trade Unions representing SNAs (FÓRSA and SIPTU) prior to their introduction in 2005. The working week for SNAs is defined in paragraph 2.5 of their contract as follows: "You will be required to work normal classroom hours including class break periods and in addition to attend before and after school in order to help with the preparation and tidying up of classrooms, reception and dispersal of children etc. The hours of work will normally be from [xxxx] to [xxxx] daily during term time."

This standard contract has been designed to be flexible to cater for the different spectrum of working hours across all the various schools including primary, post-primary and special schools. No set hours were agreed but instead, full-time SNAs are expected to work for the normal school hours in the school that they are working in, and in addition to be available for a period of time before and after school in order to help with reception and dispersal of children and preparation and tidying up of classrooms etc. These times are set locally by the school management and will vary from school to school depending on the requirements of the school. 

In addition, all SNAs were required to be available for a number of days at the start and finish of each school term not exceeding 12 in total. Under the Croke Park Agreement it was agreed to introduce greater flexibility to the use of these 12 days. These 12 days now equate to 72 hours (pro-rata for part-time SNAs) to be used by schools as an additional bank of hours to be utilised and delivered outside of normal school opening hours and/or the normal school year.

Furthermore, the contract for Special Needs Assistants in the post primary sector (link below) specifically requires that SNAs are required to work the month of June on examinations and work appropriate to the grade including training. This was agreed with the Unions representing SNAs (FÓRSA and SIPTU) when the contract was devised in 2005. This condition of service places a clear onus and obligation on the SNA to attend at their place of work and be available for work during the month of June.

It is a matter for school management as their employer to determine the precise work that is to be completed by SNAs during the month of June. The utilisation of this period is not specifically for examinations or training purposes only, although these are two of the purposes for which the period of work can be utilised. 

Link to the SNA Contract of Employment for the Post Primary sector:

Department of Education and Skills Circular SNA 12/05 (Post-Primary) http://www.education.ie/en/Circulars-and-Forms/Active-Circulars/sna12_05.pdf.

This contract of employment is augmented by all of the relevant Departmental Circulars governing Special Needs Assistants which detail the standardised terms and conditions of employment for SNAs including leave entitlements.