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.