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National Council for Special Education

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 8 February 2022

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Questions (426, 427)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

426. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education if she will ensure that assessments of need by the National Council for Special Education will allow individual schools the opportunity to input into that assessment in order to ensure that the most current information regarding the needs of students including the information provided by diagnosis of additional needs from all sources in view of the acknowledged backlog of needs assessments. [6298/22]

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Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

427. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education if a school (details supplied) can engage with the National Council for Special Education to ensure that its needs assessment is correct given the concerns that the official needs of students will not reflect their actual needs due to the backlog of needs assessments for individual student assessments caused by the non-availability of psychologists and the policy of not providing replacements for psychologists on leave. [6299/22]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 426 and 427 together.

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.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school based resource. The deployment of SNAs within schools 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.

It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

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.

A core recommendation of the NCSE review concerned a change in the way that SNAs are allocated to mainstream classes in both primary and post primary schools and called for the greater proportion of SNAs in these classes to be allocated on the basis of an educational profile of each school before the commencement of the school year in a similar manner to the allocation of special education teachers (SETs).

The new frontloaded model for allocating SNA posts is intended to ensure that SNA support is available immediately to students upon their arrival, reducing delays in accessing support.

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.

This enables a school to allocate SNA support to a pupils without a formal diagnosed special educational need, but who need support.

It had been planned that the frontloaded model of allocation for SNAs would be rolled out to all schools from the commencement of the 2020/21 school year. However, in light of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the introduction of the new Frontloaded Allocation Model for SNAs for students in mainstream classes in primary and post -primary schools has been deferred to the beginning of the 2022/23 school year.

In order to minimise disruption for schools, in the current circumstances, and to provide for continuity of allocations the following arrangements for the allocation of Special Needs Assistants for mainstream classes for the 2021/22 school year:

- Existing mainstream class SNA allocations in schools on 30 April 2021 will be maintained and will automatically rollover into the 2021/22 school year. No school will therefore receive an allocation less than that which they had on 30 April 2021.

- Where circumstances change during the course of the 2021/22 school year that materially increase the level of care need in a school to the extent that the school can clearly demonstrate that it cannot be met within the existing SNA allocation, the school may apply to the NCSE for a review.

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

Detailed information on the NCSE exceptional review process is published on the NCSE website ncse.ie/for-schools

The NCSE manages the exceptional review process and handles each case individually. Some review requests can be concluded as an office based exercise, whilst others require a school to be visited in order to observe the current deployment of SNA support in the school setting.

The timeframe for concluding a review can vary depending on the school context or the nature of the information provided.

Where a school is dissatisfied with how their exceptional review has been processed or is dissatisfied with the outcome of their exceptional review they can appeal. Applications for Appeal may be submitted through the NCSE Schools Portal: ncse.ie/school-support. Guidelines for Appeal will be published here: ncse.ie/for-schools

Where a parent has an assessment for their child which notes that they have a particular special educational need, or disability, they should still bring this to the attention of the school, as it may assist the school to decide how best to support the child.

Question No. 427 answered with Question No. 426.
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