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Special Educational Needs Staff

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 19 November 2020

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Questions (228)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

228. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Education the changes that have been introduced in the operation of the Croke Park pay agreement on extra hours for SNAs; the discussions that are taking place with a union (details supplied) on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37623/20]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I am keenly aware of the huge role played by SNAs and I am extremely appreciative of this work.   

My Department recently issued a letter to schools reminding them of the provisions relating to the 72 hours working requirement of SNAs. These hours have been in place since 2005 and form part of an SNA’s contract of employment which was agreed with unions. This letter did not change the terms and conditions of SNAs or amend previous agreements.   The letter was an important reminder to schools on the management, communication and recording of the 72 hours which are a part of the SNA contract.  It was an aide to ensure that schools effectively plan for the optimum use of this time to support the care needs of pupils. 

Under the terms of the standard employment contract agreed in 2005, 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 convert the previous requirement of SNAs to be available for 12 days outside of the school year to one of 72 hours (pro-rata for part-time SNAs). It was agreed at that time that the 72 hours would 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. These arrangements were notified to schools in 2011, in Department Circular 0071/2011.  

Both the original 2005 agreement and the Croke Park provisions were negotiated and agreed nationally between management and trade unions.  

No additional hours were required of SNAs under the 2011 agreement. 

Some recent commentary has referred to the 72 hours as being ‘unpaid’.  However, remuneration for the 12 days or 72 hours is included as part of the normal salary paid to an SNA under the terms of the 2005 agreed contract. 

As part of the 2011 agreement on reconfiguration, it was agreed that the scheduling of the hours is at the discretion of school management and schools were informed that they should ensure that accurate records are kept in relation to their use.

Fórsa, the trade union which represents SNAs, have formally sought abolition of the 72 hours contractual requirement through industrial relations channels. In addition, Fórsa have formally sought that the 72 hours are frozen and employers do not request their completion for the duration of the Covid pandemic. 

Some confusion had arisen at school level on foot of communications issued by Fórsa to schools stating that there is no liability to complete all or any of the hours.  As such schools and management bodies had asked the Department to clarify the position. During the course of discussions on the former claim, all parties were notified that the Department intended to issue a letter to school management bodies to remind schools of the provisions relating to the hours.

The agreed uses of the 72 hours include:

- SEN pupil-centred activity - such as assistance with care planning;

- Learning resource administration – such as preparing class rooms and materials;

- Class and school planning and development;

- Assistance with special exam centres for the State exams; and

- Training

The duties listed in Circular 71/2011 form part of the normal range of SNA duties, and are therefore liable to be performed at any time during normal working hours, including during the 72 hours.  

The 72 hours allow for very important support work such as assistance with care planning, learning resource administration and training to be carried out without reducing the SNA’s time with the pupil in need of their care. Accordingly, the suspension of the requirement to complete the 72 hours would have a direct, negative impact on pupils with special educational needs as it would impede on normal class time. 

Fórsa has previously claimed that SNAs are being asked to carry out duties inappropriate to the grade as part of the 72 hours. The Department’s recent letter reminded schools of the agreed list of uses for the 72 hours under Circular 71/2011 and stated that the grievance procedures should be used where allegations of inappropriate use arise. Neither I nor my Department would support uses outside of those listed in the Circular. 

However, I am aware that Fórsa has sought the abolition of the 72 hours requirement. They are pursuing that through the normal industrial relations channels and I do not intend to comment further on that claim at this juncture.

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