Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Questions (423)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

423. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education the details of the appeals avenue available to parents in cases in which a school should decide on the reallocation of SNAs in a school; the number of complaints her Department has received on this issue in each of the years 2017 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11293/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Special Needs Assistant (SNA) scheme is designed to provide schools with additional adult support staff who can assist children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs. Such support is provided in order to facilitate the attendance of those pupils at school and also to minimise disruption to class or teaching time for the pupils concerned, or for their peers, and with a view to developing their independent living skills.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), which is an independent statutory agency, is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports and my Department is not involved.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource.

The deployment of an SNA within a school is a matter for the individual Principal/Board of Management of the school.

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.

Under the Education Act 1998 the school Board of Management (BOM) is the body charged with the direct governance of a school, and it is the BOM which employs the staff at the school.

Where a parent has concerns about the level of SNA support for their child, these should be addressed to the individual teacher or school Principal as appropriate. If matters cannot be resolved at that level then a complaint can be addressed to the school's Board of Management. A school may have a formal complaints process in which case this should be followed in pursuing any complaint.

The Department encourages parents and school authorities to engage locally regarding pupils' education. Parents who have concerns regarding the manner in which the resources or supports allocated to a school are being utilised, should in the first instance, raise this matter directly with their school Principal or the Board of Management of the school.

The NCSE offers support for parents through its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO). All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

Schools were notified of the arrangements for the allocation of SNA support in respect of students in mainstream classes for the current school year. The arrangements include the following provisions:

- 2019/20 mainstream class SNA allocations were frozen, from the date of issue of Circular 0030/2020, and have automatically rolled over into the current school year. This means that no school will receive an allocation less than that which they have on the date of issue of this Circular and existing SNAs currently in standard SNA posts were allowed to continue in these posts for the current school year in the normal way.

- A diagnosis of a disability, or a psychological or other professional report, is not necessary for this process.

- The role of the SNA to support the care needs of students in mainstream classes, as set out in Circular 0030/2014, remains unchanged.

It is expected that schools will review and reprioritise the deployment of SNAs within mainstream settings and allocate resources to ensure those with the greatest level of need receive the greatest level of support. Providing access to SNA support continues to be based on primary care needs as outlined in DES Circular 0030/2014.

Schools may apply to the NCSE for additionality where they can demonstrate that the current SNA allocation does not meet additional care needs within the mainstream classes in the school. Applications for additionality arising from significant new or emerging additional care needs, which cannot be catered within existing allocations, are dealt with by way of the exceptional review process.

This arrangements do not impact on the way SNAs are allocated to special classes and special schools. Professional assessments will continue to be required in these cases and the normal application process will continue.

The exceptional review process for mainstream allocations is available to schools throughout the current school year.

Detailed information on the NCSE exceptional review process is published on the NCSE website www.ncse.ie.

I have arranged for the reply to be passed to the NCSE for the provision of data on the number of appeals received from schools on their SNA allocations.

A school can appeal the outcome of an exceptional review and details of how to do this are here https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/GuidanceSchoolAppealing-Exceptional-Review-outcome.docx