Clare principals have refuted comments from the Minister for Education regarding the success of applications for special education support.

A survey of 500 schools by the National Principles Forum last month outlined that 70 percent of principals did not believe they would have sufficient special needs assistant (SNA) support for the 2021/22 school year.

Schools in Clare are battling to split resources with a growing amount of students presenting with primary care needs.

When asked by The Clare Echo if the amount of SNAs was planned to be increased to deal with the demand, Minister for Education, Norma Foley (FF) stated, “I want to be very clear about the area of special education, it is key priority of this Government. For the first time ever, one fifth of the entire budget of the Department of Education is expended on special education, €2.5bn and that is as it should be, as I’ve said previously I come from a background in education, I know the importance of the early intervention and the work that can be done on the ground with children on a one to one.

“There is also an opportunity for schools where there is a particular need always to make particular applications and I want to say we have been very successful in that regard in this past year and moving forward our intention is to ensure whatever those needs are for any child, irrespective of their ability or capability that they will be catered for within the education sector,” she added. Minister Foley said “It is unquestionable my determination to ensure all children with particular challenges will be catered for, now and going forward”.

Principal of Mountshannon NS, Joe O’Riordan believed the appeal system was not functioning. “The Minister and the Department are very good at soundbytes, ‘smoke and mirrors’ as Bertie Ahern said. It is an economic rather an education decision they are taking, it is going to have a detrimental impact throughout schools”.

Schools are lacking assurance when it comes to the security of SNA posts. “You’re constantly walking a tight rope because if someone else comes in it’s like the loaves and the fishes, you have to share out a diminishing resource to an increasing number which is unfair to the students and the staff,” O’Riordan stated.

It is becoming ever more difficult for schools to be granted SNA support, the Tipperary native flagged. “The bar is constantly being raised on what qualifies for an SNA which to me is a money saving exercise, kids need the support, there is a huge amount of money spent on other public services but yet we’re scrimping and saving down at the face of it on the kids who are our next generation”.

Scoil Seanáin Naofa in Clonlara has 4.33 SNAs allocated to 16 students in need of their support, principal Donnchadh Kelleher outlined. “Over the last 24 months we’ve had a 100 percent increase in the number of pupils with primary care needs and would need access to an SNA, we’ve only seen a 23 percent increase in our resources. On that front, we don’t feel we would have adequate resources in terms of SNA support”.

He disagreed with the view of Minister Foley that the appeal process for securing SNA support had been successful. “We’ve been through two exceptional reviews looking for additional support, from our first review we got a very small increase, our second review we received no increase and are now in the process of a third review. Along the way we have appealed each decision, our difficulty with that would be the length of time it takes to get an outcome of a review, you could be waiting up to four or five months from our experience, you have the pupils in the school, you are trying to cater for their needs but you don’t have the resources”.

According to the Corofin man, a failure to add additional SNAs to schools that require them would lead to less inclusive schools and place a greater burden on special education teaching resources.

Relations between schools and the Department of Education has declined during the lockdown, Joe asserted. “There has been a breakdown in the relationship and trust between schools and the Department of Education, it is a relationship that was always tenuous at the best of times but I do think the Department are coming out with soundbytes and press releases but are not backing it up with actual support on the ground which leads to a lot of extremely frustrated principles because a random Minister will announce something on the radio which is a very poor way to run an education system”.

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