Special needs assistants, that's what!
Don't turn away now, this IS relevant to you, especially if you have a child in school in Ireland. It's relevant to every child in every school. And once again they are under threat, as a new Department of Education circular issued just before Easter is going to make it harder than ever for schools and children to get and keep special needs assistants (SNAs).
Here's why this should matter to you:
1. Is your child starting primary school in September?
There may be NO SNAs in the classroom, as the school may have to prove that a child needs one first. It's hard enough for teachers to manage a class of 30 junior infants, even harder if there are one or more children with special needs who require extra attention and help.
3. SNAs to help with behaviour support will only be sanctioned once everything else has tried and failed. So the poor child who can't cope, the teacher who is struggling and the other children in the class will all lose out. Meantime parents and schools are going to be drowned in even more paperwork, to work through this process. You'd wonder is the Department hoping that we just don't bother?
4. An end to SNAs in secondary schools? As the Department says, ideally no teenager should need an SNA. Parents know that. We don't look for SNA support for our children just for fun. We don't want them to look different to their peers. We only do it if we believe that it is absolutely necessary!
There are other reasons why you should care about this issue, reasons that were always there....
5. Special needs children are everywhere. Look around you: perhaps your neighbour's child was diagnosed with ASD after struggling in primary school for years. Maybe your nephew has dyslexia. A local teenager has an accident and now needs a wheelchair ... and an SNA. You can't always tell by looking at them. Some are born with special needs, others acquire them through injury or illness. Some are not diagnosed until after they start school....sometimes several years later. It could even be your child one day.
6. Because our children will grow up, and the adults they become will partly depend on the services they received on the way.
7. Because we have Inclusive Education in Ireland. Well in theory anyway: sometimes I wonder if it is just an excuse to spend less, as special schools are so expensive.
8. Because EVERY child deserves an education.
This is how one Mum summed up the new circular:
"Last year the Minister announced savage cuts for special needs, then he rolled back and didn't go ahead with them. I said at the time that it was temporary, and to watch him. Now the cuts are even worse, and ALL children will be affected.
Children with special needs will not be able to cope, will not manage, will fall behind, will be excluded or suspended or expelled.
Schools will start to turn away children with special needs, while some parents may start objecting to special needs children being in their child's class in case it takes away from their own child's education.
It is going to be mayhem.
While they cut supports to school, they are FUNDING ISOLATION ROOMS**! What does that tell you except that special needs children will suffer."
**They are known as 'small safe spaces' in the School Design Guide.
For a forensic analysis of this issue please read this excellent post by Jazzygal:
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Send feedback to Special Needs Parents Association and Inclusion Ireland for their upcoming meeting with the Minister on June 5th: