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Government’s cuts to SNAs while propping up zombie banks, disgraceful- Ó Caoláin

31 March, 2010 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking this evening in the Dáil, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD called on the Minister not to proceed with further cuts to special needs support and to reinstate support that has already been removed.

He said:
(Full speech below)
“Across this state, schools, teachers and parents are unsure whether their children with special educational needs will have access to Special Needs Assistants in the morning.

“A review has been ongoing and has already cut somewhere in the region of 200 to 300 Special Needs Assistants but this could go as high as 1,200 cuts. We don’t know the exact figure of how many have already been cut as the Minister and representatives of the National Council for Special Education have been unable or unwilling to give us that figure.

“As public representatives we have all had constituents coming to us worried for the future education of their son or daughter with a special need. It should not be necessary for any parent to have to come to a public representative to make a desperate plea for assistance. Minister, your unfair and crude review of Special Needs Assistants in mainstream and in special schools will have a massively negative impact on vulnerable children.

“Special Needs Assistants are recruited specifically to assist in the care of pupils with disabilities in an educational context. The SNA plays an indispensable role in meeting such needs by assisting with toileting, feeding, personal hygiene, mobility, medical procedures, communication and in supporting behaviour modification in order that the child can access and benefit from the primary school curriculum. There is a worry that reductions in the numbers of SNAs in schools will cause increased and unmanageable levels of behaviour in classrooms, resulting in disruptions to teaching and learning for all involved.

“If a child does not receive an appropriate education, taking account of their individual strengths and needs, they may be marginalised within the school community and society in general. There are implications for the mental health of children whose individual needs are not met and whose individual strengths are not developed, where opportunities for success are not experienced and where anxieties and fears are not managed. Studies show that children with a learning disability are at a higher risk of mental health difficulties than children who do not have a disability.

“I believe that the reduction in the level of SNAs in our schools will remove the child from the hub of the teaching and learning process and dilute the philosophy of our primary education system which enshrines and espouses a child-centred curriculum for all pupils, including those with special needs. I believe that the legal entitlement of pupils with special educational needs to have the same right to avail of and benefit from appropriate education will be denied if there are reductions in the numbers of SNAs.

“An appropriate education is an education which reflects individual strengths and needs and sets long-term goals and short-term objectives. It results from collaboration among parents, school staff, other professionals and the child. An appropriate education recognises that if basic needs are not met, the child will not meet his or her potential.

“Reductions in SNAs in the manner which has been undertaken will I believe make the legal entitlement of pupils to leave school with skills necessary to participate, to the level of their capacity and in an inclusive way, in the social and economic activities of society will not be attainable. Pupils’ care needs will not be met and therefore personal growth and fulfilment will not be achieved. Levels of challenging behaviour will escalate, resulting in increased injury to pupils and staff, and pupils will be at increased risk of developing mental health difficulties.

“At the crux of this is the fact that these are children’s lives that are being disrupted. The damage done now will have a massive impact in the years to come.

“Minister, serious questions need to be answered with regard to this issue.

“Questions such as how many Special Needs Assistant posts have already been lost in the past year? How many more will be lost? Will schools which have lost an SNA or a special class be provided with additional special needs supports? What additional resources will be provided to schools which have lost Special Needs supports?

“These are questions that need to be answered. The pupils most affected by such cuts as well as their parents, teachers and school communities deserve no less.

“The outdated review criteria and the absence of an independent appeals process speak volumes on the motives behind this review.

“How is it fair that a child loses his or her SNA and up until recently there was no way of appealing this decision? Yes there are opportunities to appeal now but only to the NCSE itself. This is in no way independent and is unfair.

“These sort of cuts simply cannot be justified, especially given the context of large class sizes, some as high as 30 pupils to one teacher, cuts that have already been implemented such as that to the resource grant and home-school liaison teachers. A child with a special need in a mainstream class without adequate support would surely get lost in the system. To deny a child the chance of a proper education and a proper chance in life and all for the sake of a few million euros, which could otherwise be found elsewhere, is truly disgraceful. In the context of the further robbery of the taxpayer this week to prop up a zombie bank it is nothing short of obscene.

“The Tánaiste and recently appointed Minister for Education and Skills must now start looking at the provision of Special Needs Assistants as more than a financial matter. These are real children we are talking about and not numbers. They are vulnerable children at that and do not deserve to be shoved from pillar to post as an accounting exercise.
Cuts to special needs support is not only heartless; the move will seriously impair these children’s education for years to come, having serious knock-on effects in the future. It is yet another example of this Government’s short-sighted ‘cost-cutting’ measures. Special needs assistants are not a luxury that can be cut, they are absolutely essential and an integral part of the education system.

“The Minister’s party calls itself republican. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916, that we remember this week in particular, pledged to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”. Children with special needs have a right to a decent education and a decent start in life as much as anyone else.

“I am appealing to the Minister and to the Government not to proceed with further cuts to special needs support and to reinstate support that has already been removed.” ENDS

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