SPECIAL Needs Assistants have called for greater regulation and rights within the education sector amid reports of job losses and hour fragmentation.
In October last year, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) claimed that Budget 2019 would see numbers employed in Irish schools reach the highest ever level, as it catered for 1,300 additional posts,
including 950 SNA positions.
However, SNAs in Cork and further afield say that to achieve this allocation, many SNAs had their hours cut and some even lost their jobs to make way for new SNAs on low hour contracts.
Frances Linehan, who works as an SNA in a Deis school in Cork, told The Echo that Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO) are cutting people’s hours without realising the impact it has on staff, parents and children.
“When he was Minister for Education, Richard Bruton said that every student with special needs would have an SNA.
“Instead, SNAs are having their hours fragmented and it is very hard to cater for all the children’s care needs,” she said.
“SENOs are coming in and cutting people’s hours and this is affecting people’s income as well as the continuity of care for the children in need. Parents are in the dark about this as well — they’ve no idea that SNAs are being split between so many children within schools,” added Ms Linehan.
A private Facebook page of more than 8,000 SNAs has been voicing concerns from within the sector.
One SNA told The Echo that the group estimates almost 300 SNAs lost their jobs in May this year.
“Many jobs were fragmented to .5 or .88 of a day, meaning people losing up to a fifth or more of their income,” she added.
“On the same day, many newspapers released a press release saying ‘800 new jobs have been created’ with no mention of the job losses,” she said. “It added salt to the wounds of those that had just found out that they’d lost their jobs via a website,” he continued.
When asked how many SNAs lost their jobs or had their hours fragmented in recent months or years, both the DES and National Council for Special Education (NCSE) said that they do not keep such records.
They added it would be a matter for individual school management boards.
SNA with decades of experience could have their hours cut because it is mainly carried out on a “last in first out basis”, according to people in the sector. One SNA told The Echo that she has been working as an SNA for 17 years.
“There were seven of us in my school and now there are two of us,” she said.
“I’m now last in and every year my stomach turns at the thought of losing my job.
“My colleague last year lost her job after 15 years.”
While SNAs have heard that there are ongoing negotiations with the DES to professionalise their role, they said the lack of information surrounding this does not inspire confidence.
Both the NCSE and DES were contacted for comment.