Students to march on Dail over special needs changes
PRIMARY pupils will line up outside the Dail tomorrow to protest at changes to the way special needs assistants (SNA) are allocated to schools.
Parents and teachers say that new rules applying from September will create significant obstacles to the provision of an SNA, even where a child has well defined needs.
An SNA is employed to assist a child with special educational needs, who also has care needs and who requires assistance in areas such as feeding, administration of medicine, toileting and mobility.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn insists that the wording of a new departmental circular, clarifying the purpose of SNA support and the circumstances in which one will normally be provided, does not represent a cut and that, at almost 11,000, there are more employed than ever.
However, Miriam Hurley, principal of Dalkey Educate Together, Dublin, said there would be new onus on teachers, other pupils and the school to cope with a child's particular needs and intervene where necessary.
She says a school will have to "fail" a child before it can ask for support and it would have to produce an exhaustive paper trail to support its case.
"In the interim, the children with special needs themselves will certainly suffer, as will all the children around them due to the resulting disruption and distress."
Dalkey Educate Together is one of a number of schools where campaigns against the new regime have gathered pace. At Dalkey, pupils and parents tied ribbons to the school fence to highlight the children potentially affected by the changes.
Thousands of signatures have also been gathered and pupils and SNAs will join the Dail protest tomorrow and hand in a petition for Mr Quinn, outlining their concerns.
The new circular follows a review that found that the deployment of SNAs had moved away from the original objectives of the scheme, and instead of being engaged purely to provide for children's care needs, they were involved in behavioural, therapeutic, teaching and administrative duties.
The circular points out that not all children with a special educational need, or a diagnosed disability, require an SNA and outlines how schools should harness existing resources to provide necessary supports before applying for an SNA.