I propose to take Questions Nos. 403 and 404 together.
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 including referencing 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. The new first national training course for SNAs provided by UCD 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 is fully funded by the Department and delivered at no cost to the SNA.
This is the first national training programme for SNAs employed in schools and is tailored to their needs. As this is the first programme, it is appropriate to take the time to review outcomes which will inform the future approach to ongoing training and professional development of SNAs. Part of that consideration will include accreditation.
Raising the minimum qualification for appointment as a special needs assistant has been referred to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Department has been engaging in that process.
The recruitment and appointment of Special Needs Assistants is a matter for the individual school authority and the Department's circular 36/2020 and 51/2019 sets out the current educational requirements for appointment as a Special Needs Assistant (SNA). In addition, the actual requirements for a post will vary depending on the specific needs of the children and the school to which the SNA is to be appointed. The Department does not believe that the existing minimum qualifications has impacted on the calibre of person appointed and it is also the case that people with experience and/or higher qualifications than the minimum are often the successful candidate in competitions held by schools.
However, having considered the claim and, in particular, the period of time since they were set, the Department is open to reviewing the position. However, the Department is not yet in a position to indicate when that review might take place but is of the view that the forthcoming review of the SNA contract proposed as part of the Building Momentum national pay agreement should be carried out and implemented first.