Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) play a huge role in helping to ensure the inclusion of pupils with significant care needs in education and in school life. This was acknowledged in the Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme (SNAs) published by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in 2018.
The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs and the need for a more broadly based set of supports including therapeutic supports for pupils with complex needs. The Review also referenced the training needs of SNAs. In this regard, the NCSE recommended that a new national training programme at Level 5 of the National Qualification Framework be developed for existing SNAs who do not have the requisite level of training and for new SNAs on appointment. The NCSE also recommended that training tailored to the specific complex needs of some students being cared for by SNAs would also be provided.
The policy advice has been considered by the Department. It was decided that priority should be given to the development of a training programme for SNAs who may not have had a recent opportunity to access a training programme tailored to their role.
A public procurement competition was held for the development and delivery of a new national training programme for SNAs. A detailed specification of need and learning outcomes was developed and published for the competition. Formal accreditation to the National Qualifications Framework was not a requirement for the programme. Following evaluation of the tenders received, the contract was awarded to University College Dublin (UCD) School of Education, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems.
UCD has a strong reputation in the world of education and training. It brings with it a wealth of experience and research knowledge in the training and has very strong quality assurance arrangements for its programmes. Feedback from programme participants is a key feature of this quality assurance process.
This new programme aims to enhance the knowledge, skills and expertise of SNAs whose work is central to the inclusion of students with additional care and complex needs in school life.
The programme consists of five modules, delivered online over a 10-month period. Flexibility is a key part of the approach to the delivery of the programme and participation is voluntary.
The programme is fully funded by the Department and delivered at no cost to the SNA.
Completion of the programme may serve as a stepping stone to further education opportunities in the area.
Each participant who completes the programme successfully will receive a certificate from UCD School of Education which may be of assistance in pursuing further education.
€2.45m will be allocated to this programme over the next 4 year period based on a full uptake of 3,500 SNAs. The first cohort of 500 SNAs enrolled in January and this phase was oversubscribed.
This is the first national training programme for SNAs employed in our schools and is tailored to their needs. The programme will be evaluated and the outcome will inform the approach to the training of SNAs in the future. There is no cost to serving SNAs working in schools. This course is fully funded by the Department of Education.
The Department recognises that a more strategic approach is required for the training of SNAs. This would deal with a number of matters including the identification of need and the provision of appropriate training programmes. The issue of programme accreditation will be considered further in this context.