The Truth About Special Needs Assistants

by Specialneeds Parents.

A few months ago, I asked a question of five politicians: ‘In light of acquired knowledge and experience, was the time now right to consider an evolved role for an SNA ( Special Needs Assistant) in the classroom?

 An easy question you would think. But three of the five straight away came back ‘What about the Unions?’


One of the others was a Minister, so he held his tongue.


The SNA is supposed to be in the classroom, school to assist the Special Needs children with CARE needs only. This is an important point. A lot of parents feel that ‘getting a full-time SNA’ will be the answer to their prayer’s. This magical person will be with their child at all times in the school to cater for their every whim and need. Much like a parent does. To help educate their child to develop up to and beyond their maximum potential. Unfortunately, in general this is a myth. Parents have been fed this expectation by the schools, the teachers, the principals and dare I say it the unions.


Reality is, that despite the majority of SNA’s being people who are committed to their job, they are not qualified to teach. Just like teachers, they do not have to do continuous  professional development. They are used in some cases as the school lackey. To do the photo copying, to be the classroom assistant, I have even heard of one whose job it was, to get the headmasters wife’s dry cleaning. I kid you not. This was recounted to me by a Government minister.

A full time SNA is not going to be with your child full time, if you are allocated one. After all the system now is that when granted one, the allocation of those SNA hours is left up to the school principal. Since most principal’s are former teacher’s, who have been promoted to be the CEO of the School. An allocator of human resources and finance’s that they were not trained for in college. It is up to them how many hours your child will get. The SENO (Special Education Needs Officer) has the power to grant these hours to the school. They have no disability training either like the principal’s. Nor can a parent appeal a SENO’s decision unless you do it through the school. What would a parent know about their child’s care needs anyway?

In the whole running of a school , SNA’s , like resource teacher’s are important parts of the business. They take the burden off the teacher’s of the Special Needs children. The Department of Education and Skills (aka Finance) are pushing for a totally inclusive education system. This has a lot of merit. SN child should be educated alongside able bodied children but this poses a problem for the schools. Not all want this burden. It means the teachers have to do work out of their comfort zone. How many teachers have done any more than the basic study of disabilities in their training? How many have researched the condition of the Special Needs Child they are teaching? The schools need the Special Needs children for budgetary reasons. Manpower.

The SNA is the person the school depends on. They are the one who can look after the SN child and allow the teacher get on with doing their job. One which they are already over-burdened with. The allocation of SNA hours is key. But there is one little stumbling block. SNA’s are in a different union. Teacher do not want SNA’s to rise above their station and teach; well not teach officially. They would then be entitled to more money and the head teacher ; sorry, Principal has a tough job allocating the budget already. SNA’s are not on  as secure and pensionable a position as the teachers and head teachers. They really are the worker bees.

Special Needs children have gained a better position in schools in Ireland since the Celtic Tiger. They are now accepted and no longer hidden away. The politicians laid the foundations of a secure structure with the EPSEN Act in 2004 but like so many ghost estates it was not completed and lies gathering dust. Are the Special Needs children going to be covered over with dust and let rot like those unfinished property developments. We know they are there but we are not going to do any more about them. We don’t have the money any more. These children present a problem to the politicians. Their families are no longer willing to be quiet in the background. The media are willing to use them to show up Government inaction. Even the service providers who have ridden the gravy train and have shown that they are grossly incompetent with their managing taxpayers money. They also now use the Special Needs child as media fodder to get more money. Frontline services are always the first to be cut. Cue the poorly looking child with the disability for the TV cameras.

Now that the dust has settled on the massive boom and bust in the Irish economy it is time to evaluate what has happened to Irish society. What has changed? Winner’s and losers. Who controls power in Ireland? Who is responsible for all of this? Now you cannot even get an answer to a TD’s question in the Dail, ‘due to a trade union dispute’. The tail wagging the dog’s head.

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Irish Autism Action
Irish Autism Action is an umbrella organisation with 33 member groups and 3,500 individual members. Our members range from the 13 Special Schools for Children with Autism to local support groups and are located in practically every county in Ireland.
Irish Autism Action

Irish Autism Action

Irish Autism Action is an umbrella organisation with 33 member groups and 3,500 individual members. Our members range from the 13 Special Schools for Children with Autism to local support groups and are located in practically every county in Ireland.

0 thoughts on “The Truth About Special Needs Assistants

  • September 7, 2010 at 5:51 pm
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    I feel kind of  bad getting upset with your post, knowing that things are poorly run in your Country. I sincerely hope that things change for the better for the sake of those special needs children and the families who are concerned for their children’s care. Being a parent of a special needs child, it is our job to start the fight to change the system.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm
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    @irishautismaction – This post was originally done as a guest post for the IAA blog. I am not sure why it made it here as I don’t feel it is appropriate, it is not about family life with autism. It is a politically motivated post written by someone with a passion to see SN children (and their parents) in Ireland get their educational requirements met. No offence is intended to anyone or any institution, the problems listed here are in reference to the country of origin only.

    Along with the extra apostrophy”””s

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 1:42 pm
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    @New_Egyptian@xanga – no offence intended. SNA’s aren’t always well treated in their jobs here and find themselves torn between the expectations of the parents and the demands placed on them by the school which don’t allow them to actually look after the child they are assigned to. Your set up sounds very professional and respectful of everyone involved.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 1:36 pm
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    @onsce@xanga – Yes, Ireland. Principals in this country are normal teachers with no extra training. In smaller schools the Principal is expected to teach a class as well as run the school. 

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 11:43 am
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    I live in the United States, and I am a full time aide to a handicapped student. I am with her over half of the day, and I take care of feeding her, taking her to the restroom, and helping her with class work. She is in a wheelchair, and cannot walk at all. When I am not with her, there is another aide in the class room to assist her, but I am her aide. We are also called paraprofessionals. One of the requirements of the job is to either have an associate’s degree, or taking and passing a paraprofessional exam. I do not have any college hours, so I took the test. By the way, I made a perfect score. I am also required to have a certain amount of professional development each school year. I proudly sit here and tell you that I spell, read, and write very well. I am not a butcher of the English language. My job is very important. I help my own student, as well as go to other class rooms to provide assistance where needed. Yes, we do make copies for teachers Has it occurred to you that this helps the certified teacher stay in the class room? I was a bit offended by some of your post.

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 6:27 am
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    “Since most principal’s are former teacher’s” …. you mean “teachers”. Wow, for someone criticizing others for not being competent, at least learn how to fucking use grammar. Haha. 

    Reply
  • September 5, 2010 at 3:43 am
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    I’m glad we don’t live where you are. My brother actually needs his aid. He has a full time aid with him during the school day who helps him with lunch, bathroom breaks (he’s in a wheelchair), copying notes, taking tests, even finishing homework if he couldn’t finish it the night before (he’s a very slow typer and learner so sometimes it happens). The only issue we’ve had with his current aid is that he keeps trying to give my brother unsolicited life advice and unsolicited homework/test help. He’s actually told my brother that he’s doing assignments wrong before despite having no background in education. Normally when this happens, the aid is actually wrong and my brother is right. But if you have the right aid, they are a big help to special needs students, especially to the ones who are able to be taught in a normal classroom instead of being in an all-special needs classroom.

    Reply
  • September 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm
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    Here in North Carolina, my mom works in a school in which all the students have some kind of developmental disability. Many of her students are in wheel chairs and can’t even walk. She’s an instructional assistant at the moment, but getting her bachelor’s degree in special education. I know we’re talking about something different here, but I personally, feel that if there were more schools like the one she works at, there would be less stretching these kinds of SNA’s around, and the staff would be equally prepared to handle the challenges and experiences that come with educating a child with a DD.

    Reply
  • September 4, 2010 at 7:20 pm
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    I wonder where your blogging from. Where I live, continued development is required of teachers.

    Some of your statements seem a bit awkward and hard to understand. When getting into the principal discussion, it sounds as if you are stating many principles are merely reappointed teachers. I don’t know about your area, but I do know in mine that becoming a principal here requires a higher degree than a teacher.

    Here, the vast majority of special needs children are taught alongside their peers, and only receive additional assistance from a SNA under certain circumstances (normally for exams & testing).

    After reading the rest of your post, I gather you’re in Ireland?

    Reply
  • September 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm
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    Your excessive use of apostrophes makes it almost impossible for me to take your argument seriously.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm
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    It’s too bad that this is how the system works where you live. I am a parent to a severely disabled young boy. He has a one on one E.A (educational assistant) in school. She works with him and him only. These hours (6) are allotted to my son and are not shared with other children or used for any purpose other than for him. I also work as an E.A in the same school division. I am assigned a 6 hour job to work with one student one to one for a whole year, two max. I am never expected to work with other students unless mine is away. I am also never expected to do personal errands for any “higher up” staff. That is the supervisor taking advantage of their support staff. E.A’s in my province are part of a different union, paid a different wage, and do take part in manditory training. I have never heard of a principal that has special needs training, unless they were former special needs teacher. They generally have little to do with the special needs programs.Here anyway.I don’t understand how a person would be hired to work with special needs children without any prior experience/training.We do have different levels of E.A’s which would explain why some photocopy. In my job I am the highest level E.A (there are 4 levels) and do all personal care (depending on what the student requires) as well as all of the school work with them. (also depending on what is required) It is manditory that we are C.P.R certified and have non-violent crisis prevention, seizure and medical training updated as needed. Our pay is different because we perform different duties. Educational, medical and social. We are not expected to teach in a program where the child is integrated into regular programs (if they are able) but simply assist the child with the work.
    Very happy to live where I do, and hope your system changes.

    Reply

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