28 September, 2020 - Minister Madigan launches new National Training Programme for Special Needs Assistants

Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, Josepha Madigan TD today announced the launch of a new National Training Programme for Special Needs Assistants. This is the first dedicated national training programme for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). It will be delivered by UCD and funded by the Department of Education at no cost to the SNA.

The new online programme for SNAs will begin in January 2021 and will consist of five modules delivered over a ten-month period covering inclusion, communications and language, a range of special needs and information on caring for students with additional care needs. In total, there are 3,500 places available on the programme over the next four years.

The need for SNA training was identified by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in its recent review of the SNA scheme. 

Speaking today, Minister Madigan said: “As the first Minister for Special Education and Inclusion, I am delighted to invite SNAs to enroll in the first national training programme for SNAs which is to commence shortly. Nearly 17,000 SNAs work in our schools dealing with the care needs of the most vulnerable students so they can participate in school life as much as possible and achieve the best possible education outcomes. This programme will help refresh and update their knowledge and skills and provide an opportunity for them to interact with educators and colleagues in a learning and supported professional environment.

“Providing support and training for SNAs is an important part of my Action Priorities for Special Education and I hope to see further developments in this area over the coming years. The programme is high-quality and was developed by University College Dublin (UCD) in conjunction with my Department and the NCSE. As it is an online programme, it can be accessed by SNAs at a time that suits them.

“The programme is open to all SNAs working in primary, post-primary and special schools at no cost to the SNA.   I hope that each school will encourage their SNAs to enroll. It is open to schools to use some of the current training time allocation to facilitate participation in the programme.”

Following a public procurement process, UCD School of Education in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems was selected to develop and deliver the programme.  The programme will begin in January 2021 with the enrolment of 500 SNAs in the first year. 

The Minister concluded, “In some cases, this may be the first opportunity many SNAs have had to engage in formal learning in relation to their work in schools. On successful completion of the programme, participants will receive a certificate from UCD which may serve as a stepping-stone to further education and qualification. Ongoing training and professional development for SNAs will continue to be a key objective of my Department. I look forward to meeting the first graduates from the programme in due course.”  

Associate Professor William Kinsella, Head of UCD School of Education said: “We, at UCD School of Education, are very pleased to be involved in this initiative with the Department of Education and Skills and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in delivering what we consider to be a very important programme, namely a national training programme for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in Irish schools.  This has been an identified need within the Education system over many years.  UCD School of Education is collaborating with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems in delivering a programme of the highest standard that will enhance the skills of SNAs in supporting the most vulnerable students within the education system, thus enhancing the inclusiveness of our schools.”

The programme will be open for applications from October 1st, with a closing date of November 16th, with the first cohort of students due to begin on January 18th 2021.  Application forms and information material is available on the UCD website.

Notification of this programme will issue directly to every school in the country over the coming days informing them of this important initiative. Further information will be published on the Department’s website and via social media. UCD will be holding webinars where potential applicants will be invited to attend to meet the team and ask questions. 


Notes for Editors

Frequently Asked Questions document is available https://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Services/Professional-Development/sna-national-training-programme.html

Application Forms and Information Booklets will be available on UCD School of Education website https://www.ucd.ie/education/ prior to the application opening date of 1st October.

Further notes on the National Training Programme for Special Needs Assistants

The modules include

  1. Inclusive Education of pupils with additional educational needs
  2. Communication and Language difficulties
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorders
  4. Primary care needs, including medical and complex needs
  5. Professional Development of Special Needs Assistants

An induction session will be held at the beginning of the programme in order to familiarise participants with the technological requirements and other aspects of the programme.

Participants will be required to engage with learning materials and complete related tasks online.  They will have access to a comprehensive range of learning resources. 

Progress through the programme will be monitored on an ongoing basis and there will be an assignment to be completed at the end of each module. 

The first training programme starts in January 2021 with a cohort of 500 applicants. Followed by 3 further years, each September, with a capacity for 1000 SNAs.


A Government decision in relation to the Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme, agreed to the establishment of a pilot of a new School Inclusion Model for children with special educational and additional care needs involving up to 75 participating schools in the CHO 7 region over the course of the 2019/20 school year. However, the pilot could not be completed given the fact that schools closed in March so the pilot has been extended in the 2020/21 school year.

The School Inclusion Model is designed to test a support model for schools which will provide for a range of additional supports, such as behavioural support, additional psychological support services, and therapy services in schools.

This is an important and innovative pilot. Its aim is to ensure that we have the right supports in place for children at the right time. The completion and evaluation of the pilot project will support in developing improved services for children with special educational needs in schools, not only providing for care needs, but a range of other needs as well.

Arrangements have been made for an independent evaluation of the School Inclusion Model to take place over the course of the 2020/21 school year, which will be conducted by the Education and Social Research Institute.

The evaluation will seek to determine the impact of the School Inclusion Model on students, SNAs, parents, and the schools involved, including the outcomes attained. 

The Department of Education and Skills currently spends approximately €1.9 billion, or almost 20% of its total educational budget, annually on making additional provision for children with special educational needs.

The provision of education for children with special needs is a priority for this Government and investment will continue in the area of special educational needs provision.

Key elements of the School Inclusion Model include: 

  • Development of a new frontloaded allocation model of SNAs allocated in line with profiled needs of the school based on the Allocation Model for Special Education Teachers introduced in September 2017;
  • expansion of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS);
  • continuation of the therapy Demonstration Project in schools
  • the development of multidisciplinary NCSE Regional Support Teams, to include specialists in relevant disciplines (Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Behaviour Practitioners), in order to build capacity in schools through training and Continuing Professional Development;
  • the development of a National Training Programme for SNAs; and
  • the provision of a nursing service for children with complex medical needs in schools to complement existing HSE-supported nursing provision.

The outcome of the evaluation will inform any decision to extend the programme to other areas of the country.