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17 June, 2011 - Department authorises the National Council for Special Education to allocate Special Needs Assistants for 2011/12

All Schools will be advised next week in relation to their allocation of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs).The previous Government decided in December 2010 to cap the number of whole time equivalent posts at 10,575. At present there are 10,802 posts which is 227 over the cap to be reached by the end of 2011. This is primarily as a result of a commitment by the Department of Education and Skills to provide an additional 230 SNA posts in 13 new schools for children with autism (previously ABA Pilot centres). The Department is committed to meeting the cap figure of 10,575 by the end of this year, as per the requirements of the Employment Control Framework.  The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and the Department have decided to retain 475 of the 10,575 posts in order to allocate them during the coming school year for cases such as emergency and reviews, acquired injuries, new entrants to schools, arrivals from overseas or new assessments of disability or syndromes during the school year which cannot be catered for from within the schools allocation of SNA support.NCSE priority criteria for the allocation of SNA posts include:ensuring that the minimum SNA to special class ratio is maintained in special schools and special classes ensuring support for children with incontinence issues ensuring those schools which require full day cover for children receive full day cover deferring the allocation of additional SNA supports to schools for Junior Infant pupils for whom behaviour is cited as the rationale for SNA support, other than in cases of well documented extremely challenging or dangerous behaviour *(see note below) prioritise schools which have enrolled pupils with newly diagnosed care needs and which do not have any SNA support encouraging the effective use of SNA posts, for example where two or more posts have been deployed in a single classroomThe existing level of SNAs in special schools, other than those whose enrolments have declined significantly, will be maintained in order to assist and protect the most vulnerable children in the education system. All schools which enrol children with significant care needs as identified in professional reports will have SNA support allocated to the school and all such children will have access to SNA support. Applications for SNAs from special schools will be considered in the Autumn in the context of a review of their allocations. In the meantime Special Schools will be informed that they can maintain their existing levels of SNAs.The decisions taken by the NCSE and the Department on the allocation of SNAs are informed by the recently published "Value for Money and Policy Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme " and also by policy advice from the NCSE.  The report shows that the number of SNA posts has risen dramatically from 2,988 in 2001 to over 10,500. Expenditure on the scheme has increased by more than 922% since then and currently stands at €348 million.  The review confirms that the scheme is supporting schools in meeting the needs of students with disabilities who have significant care needs and that it has also played a valuable role in enabling as many of these students as possible to be taught in mainstream schools.However, the review also shows that the purpose of the scheme is not well understood by either schools or parents and that this has led to some problems with the allocation of SNAs. It has also led to the role of the SNA being expanded beyond its original intention.  The growth in the number of SNAs has been large, as has the expenditure. This study shows that some professionals feel they have been pressurised into identifying care needs which may not meet the criteria for SNA support. This issue will be addressed collaboratively between the Department, the NCSE and the professional bodies. It also shows that some schools expend a lot of time in retaining the services of an SNA once they have one.  Another finding of concern is that in the schools surveyed there was found to be an over-allocation of SNAs, of 27% in primary and post primary schools and 10% in special needs schools.  There is now a need to restate the purpose of SNA scheme, so that all stakeholders, especially schools and parents, have a clear understanding of the care role of the SNA and how this resource should be allocated.  The last government brought in the cap on SNA posts at 10,575 and this still stands. This means that one of the recommendations in the report, that the NCSE should annually review the scheme,is in force.  The Department is committed to ensuring a situation where the valuable work of the SNAs can continue to support students whose care needs require an SNA but at the same time ensuring that the resource is not misused and that the best value for money is achieved from Exchequer funding. The School Management Bodies are being informed of the allocation process today (Friday 17th June).  ENDS* At present, SNA supports are allocated to schools in respect of most applications for Junior Infant pupils for whom behaviour is cited as the care need. This is despite the fact that schools will not have had much experience of the cited behaviours, nor had an opportunity to take steps to address such behaviour through the recommended NEPS (National Educational Psychological Service) continuum of behaviour approach. The Department is currently working with NEPS and the NCSE to develop an information guide for school staff on the guidelines for supporting such children. It is therefore proposed that, other than in cases where there is evidence of a well-documented pattern of extremely challenging/dangerous behaviour, such applications will be refused in future in the absence of appropriate evidence to support the application.