HUNDREDS of special-needs assistants (SNAs) will get their P45s in the post within the next few weeks, the Irish Independent has learned.
While some of these will be able to get work in other schools, many will end up without jobs.
The assistants who face the sack immediately work in schools where it has already been decided that their services are no longer required. In addition, a value-for-money audit that is under way is understood to be nearing completion. It will recommend a stricter implementation of the criteria that led to the appointment of assistants, resulting in the loss of an estimated 1,200 posts.
However, vacancies in other schools and additional appointments elsewhere will mean a net loss of somewhere between 400 and 500 jobs.
At the moment, there are 17,000 full- and part-time assistants who support pupils that have any one of a range of disabilities or whose behaviour is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The number of assistants has risen rapidly in recent years and was as low as 300 in 1997.
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Science said posts that did not meet the current criteria were being identified by the National Council for Special Education.
These included posts that had been retained when a pupil's care needs had diminished or a student had left the school. The spokesman stressed that where a pupil qualified for support, SNA posts would continue to be provided.
However, the trade union IMPACT has written to Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, seeking clarity on the planned reduction of posts.
"We view reductions of this scale as a most serious matter and consider them to be compulsory redundancies under the terms of our ballot for industrial action last October," said union official Philip Mullen.
"We have therefore asked the minister to extend arrangements for these posts until the end of the school year at least, in order to allow the review to be completed and to minimise the disruption to students in the middle of the school year."
Mr Mullen said such an extension would allow time for the findings of the value-for-money review to be considered and incorporated into any adjustment of the number of assistants.
He added: "Given the department's frequent assertions regarding the priority of special education, it would seem logical to maintain the existing level of service until the findings of the value-for-money review are known and any recommendations received."
The proposed reduction is below the level recommended in Colm McCarthy's Bord Snip Nua report, which said a cut of 2,000 full-time post equivalents would save €60m and would bring the numbers back to their 2006 levels.