Budget 2021 provided for an additional 990 additional Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) for allocation to schools, bringing the total numbers to 18,000 by the end of December 2021. This allocation of SNAs is to meet the care needs of pupils in 2021 and will enable the establishment of new special classes, creation of new places in special schools, support children in mainstream classes and the transition to the new allocation model for the 2021/22 school year.
There are currently 16,969 SNAs allocated to schools. The Budget 2021 increase to 18,000 SNAs posts represents an increase of increase of 70% in the number of SNAs provided since 2011 at which point 10,575 SNAs were available.
A new model for allocating SNAs to primary and post primary schools for students in mainstream classes only was to be introduced in the 2020/21 school year as part of the phased roll out of the School Inclusion Model (SIM). In light of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis the Frontloaded Allocation Model for SNAs was deferred until the beginning of the 2021/22 school year.
Further advice will issue in the course of the 2020/21 school year on the introduction of the frontloaded model with effect from September 2021. This will outline the overall approach, including the professional development and other supports to be made available for schools and teachers.
The change to a new allocation model was recommended by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in policy advice published in May 2018 entitled the "Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme – a new School Inclusion Model to deliver the right supports at the right time to students with additional care needs”.
The Review highlighted the important role SNAs play in assisting students with additional care needs to attend school and acknowledged that the scheme is greatly valued by parents, students and schools. There is evidence of an enduring loyalty and a strong attachment between many schools, students, parents and SNAs.
The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs. While SNAs are very much valued in the provision of care support, the Review recommended that a more broadly based set of supports was required including therapeutic supports.
Under the new model the allocation of SNAs for mainstream classes to primary and post primary schools will be based on the school profile used for the allocation of Special Education Teachers and will not be based on an annual application process, this means that schools will have certainty around their SNA allocation going forward, and it will enable schools to engage SNA’s on contracts of employment for a longer duration than is currently possible. SNA will then have more certainty around their tenure of employment and the new model does not change their roles and functions.
The Review also referenced SNA training. Among the recommendations was the introduction of a national training programme for SNAs currently employed in our schools. Following a public procurement process, University College Dublin (UCD) School of Education, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, were selected to develop and deliver this important educational initiative. UCD’s wide-ranging experience and expertise will enable the delivery of a broad-ranging and high-quality programme. This programme will begin in January 2021 with 500 participants in the first year. Priority is being given to SNAs working in School Inclusion Pilot Schools.
This major educational initiative will 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. For some SNAs, this programme may present the first opportunity in recent times for them to engage with the theory and research based best practice underlying their role. There is no cost to serving SNAs working in schools. This course is fully funded by the Department of Education and Skills.