30 May, 2018 - Minister Bruton welcomes Special Needs Assistants Scheme review

Government committed to ensuring best outcomes for children with special educational needs 

New frontloaded model for allocating supports to be developed 

The Minister for Education and Skills, Mr. Richard Bruton T.D., today (30th May 2018), welcomed a Review into the Special Needs Assistant (SNA) Scheme by the National Council of Special Education (NCSE) and committed to developing proposals for implementing its recommendations. 

Ensuring children with special educational needs are given the opportunity to fulfil their full potential is a key priority for this government.  There will be 15,000 Special Needs Assistants working in our schools come this September. This is a 42% increase on 2011, when the number of SNAs stood at 10,575. The Government now invests €524m in SNAs annually, as part of a total €1.75 billion investment that we invest in special educational needs overall. 

The Review set out to ensure that the Scheme is achieving the best outcomes possible for children with special educational needs. The NCSE has found that the SNA scheme is greatly valued by parents, students and schools and works well in meeting the needs of students including those with care needs such as toileting, mobility and feeding. 

However, the NCSE also found that there is some frustration regarding the narrow focus of the scheme which they suggest should be expanded, for example, to enable SNAs to meet student learning, emotional and social needs; and/or to include students without a diagnosis of disability but who have additional needs; and to deliver speech and language and/or occupational and/or physiotherapy programmes. 

In light of these findings, the NCSE has recommended 

  • A better model of support is required. The review finds that the Scheme in its current form acts as a blunt instrument to address the wide range and variety of needs with which students present. The new model, would be frontloaded with supports, similar to the approach taken with the Resource Teacher Allocation Model introduced to schools in September 2017 and would see the majority of support posts allocated ahead of time, removing the need for assessments and allowing for earlier intervention. 
  • Students should have access to a continuum of support, based on their identified need at the time. A staffing and funding package for Special Schools and classes with a baseline level of supports for special settings and ring-fenced funding for therapy services would be required to support this. 
  • New arrangements for oversight, monitoring and evaluation; on guidance for schools, parents and others; on an appeals process; on a proposed National training programme to develop school capacity and on the development of an implementation plan. 
  • Existing and new care support staff should be renamed “Inclusion Support Assistants” 

Committing to developing proposals for a new frontloaded model for allocating supports to schools for children with special educational needs who have additional care needs today,

Minister Bruton said: “This Government is committed to ensuring that children with special educational needs are supported and given every opportunity to fulfil their full potential. 

“Special Needs Assistants play a key role in supporting children who have additional care needs to attend school and participate in education and I want to commend the 14,060 SNAs currently in our schools for the fantastic work they do. There is no doubt that without SNAs, many of the 34,600 students currently accessing SNA support would not be able to attend school. This support is very much valued by students, parents and schools, as they provide an indispensable service which is key to ensure participation of students with additional care needs in education. 

“Following on from my announcement last week that there will be a total of 15,000 Special Needs Assistants working in our schools by the end of 2018, I am very pleased to welcome the NCSE policy advice recommendations. 

“It is clear from the NCSE’s advice that the State’s existing response to meeting the needs of students with additional care needs should be broadened to offer a more comprehensive and tailored response to meeting children’s needs. As with the new allocation model for special education teachers which was introduced in 2017, it will be vital to engage closely with Parent and Disability representatives as well as education stakeholders at all stages of the development of a new model. It will also be necessary to include all relevant Health stakeholders. 

“My Department will now begin to develop proposals to implement the recommendations of the Comprehensive review of the SNA Scheme. I want to commend the following, NCSE for their work on completing the Comprehensive Review of the Scheme, Eamon Stack and members of the working group established to propose an alternative and improved model of care needs support and also the working group established to consider concerns around the provision of care supports for children with complex medical needs.” 

Notes for the Editor 

Number of SNAs available for allocation

There will be a total of 15,000 Special Needs Assistants working in our schools by the end of this year. This is a 42% increase on 2011, when the number of SNAs stood at 10,575. 

Since 2011, the number of SNAs has increased from 10,575 to 14,060. This is an increase of 4,365 SNAs, which includes an additional 2,040 posts in the last two years alone

  • SNA support will be allocated to over 13,700 extra pupils since 2011, bringing the total to over 36,000 students by the end of this year.

The Government now invests €524m in SNAs annually, as part of a total €1.75 billion investment that we invest in special educational needs overall. 

This increased investment reflects the priority which the government has put on helping children with special educational needs to fulfil their potential. It also reflects the growing participation of children with special educational needs in the education system and the capacity of our education system to better support their full participation and progression. 

Comprehensive Assessment of the SNA Scheme 

There have been a number of reviews of the SNA scheme in recent years. 

  • In 2011, a Value for Money and Policy Advice review found that, while the scheme was valued by parents and schools, its purpose was often misunderstood, possibly contributing to the high levels of demand and occasional misuse of the resource. 
  • In 2016 a focussed policy assessment of the scheme recommended that a more comprehensive review of the scheme should be undertaken to identify the most appropriate form of support options to provide better outcomes for students with Special Educational Needs or disability, having regard to the significant amount of State investment in this area. 

In September 2016, the Minister requested the NCSE to lead a comprehensive review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme, in consultation with other relevant Departments and State Agencies. The request followed a Government decision that a review would be carried out to ensure that the scheme continues to meet its objectives and that resources are being utilised effectively and efficiently, in line with guidelines. 

The proposed model of support has been devised by a working group established by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and chaired by Eamon Stack, Chairperson of the Council, as part of the Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant (SNA) Scheme, the full report of which will be published today by the NCSE. 

A number of recommendations in the Review address the following identified objectives: 

  • Access to the right in-school support at the right time delivered by the right people 
  • A broader range of support options available to students with additional care needs under a tiered model of support 
  • Care supports frontloaded into schools and available upon enrolment 
  • Access to support linked to assessed need rather than disability diagnosis 
  • In-school personnel supporting students’ additional care needs will be better trained and qualified and have greater security of tenure 
  • NCSE, in collaboration with the relevant DES bodies, will build school capacity through the provision of a broad range of support options including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behaviour support. 

The Department will now begin to develop proposals to implement the recommendations of the Comprehensive review of the SNA Scheme This will involve:

 

  • Establishing a Working Group
  • Setting out the timetable for engagement with key Departments and agencies as well as consultation with Education and Health Partners, and other stakeholders
  • Developing proposals for early action on developing, on a pilot basis, a possible new allocation model and a national training programme

For 2018/19, SNA applications have been processed as part of the normal applications process. 

The in-school Speech and Language Therapy demonstration project, in partnership with the Departments of Children and Youth Affairs, and Health; the HSE and the NCSE, which was launched by Ministers Bruton and Zappone on 18 May 2018, will provide an opportunity to examine options including the provision of a more targeted response. It will also facilitate the mapping of existing therapy services in the relevant HSE region to help ensure effective use of resources and complementarity between existing services and the Project. This project provides a vital opportunity to demonstrate the potential for effective working of the education and health sectors in this area for the benefit of children in need of support. 

Working Group to propose an alternative and improved model of care needs support 

Following the receipt of the Progress Report, the NCSE established an NCSE-led Working Group, comprising relevant stakeholders, to assist in developing a proposal for an alternate and improved model of support to provide better outcomes for students with special educational needs who have additional care needs.

The Working Group was chaired by Eamon Stack, Chairperson of the NCSE Council. The final report identifies a number of objectives: 

  • Access to the right in-school support at the right time delivered by the right people 
  • A broader range of support options available to students with additional care needs under a tiered model of support 
  • Care supports frontloaded into schools and available upon enrolment 
  • Access to support linked to assessed need rather than disability diagnosis 
  • In-school personnel supporting students’ additional care needs will be better trained and qualified and have greater security of tenure 
  • NCSE, in collaboration with the relevant DES bodies, will build school capacity through the provision of a broad range of support options including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behaviour support.