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School says children 'may have to remain in their wheelchairs' due to SNA cuts

The Dublin primary school has warned parents that there will be “a serious disruption of services” in September.

Image: Shutterstock/riopatuca

A DUBLIN PRIMARY school that caters for children with complex needs has warned parents that there will be “a serious disruption of services” from September onwards due to the removal of one teacher and two special needs assistants (SNAs).

Sandymount School is run under the patronage of Enable Ireland.

In a letter recently sent to parents, and seen by TheJournal.ie, Arthur Farrell, Secretary to the Board of Management, told parents the move “will be a great loss to our school”.

In the letter Farrell said that from September onwards children “may have to remain in their wheelchairs because of a lack of staff to safely transfer them”.

He wrote: “Our capacity to offer swimming every day will be curtailed and we may not be able to offer standing, horse riding, or placing children in specialist equipment when they need a break from their wheelchairs.

“At present the senior boys and senior girls are toileted by male and female SNAs respectively. From September I will not be able to guarantee that this will continue and that the senior females may have to be changed by male SNAs and senior males may have to be changed by female SNAs.”

He added that the school’s “capacity to allow all children have lunch together in a safe manner will not be possible”.

There will be 38 students enrolled in the school in September, with six class teachers and 15.25 SNA posts, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) said. Five children are due to leave the school this year and three new pupils are set to begin attending.

In a statement sent to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Sandymount School said representatives from the school met with the NCSE in April, when they were informed about the reduction in staff numbers for the 2018/19 academic year.

The spokesperson said the school was told that the reduction was due to the implementation of the 1993 Special Education Review Committee (SERC) report.

“It is the school’s view that this report is 25 years out of date and does not meet the needs of special education children in 2018,” they noted.

‘Staff work tirelessly’

The spokesperson stated that Sandymount School “provides a specialist and highly technical service for children with physical and complex medical disabilities”.

Our pupils are at the centre of all our work and staff work tirelessly to ensure that children are educated and cared for with dignity and respect. Children attending our school require extensive nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy to maintain a school placement and are not catered for in mainstream education.

“The ratios of staff outlined in 1993 do not cater for the modern school or the place of children with disabilities in our society.”

The spokesperson said the school is “acutely aware that the needs of the children attending Sandymount School has increased significantly over the years”.

“While our pupil numbers are reducing by two this year, the school’s new and existing pupils present with a high level of care needs which cannot be sustained with the ratios of 1993 or indeed 2013.”

The school’s spokesperson added that “a small increase” in staffing ratios would have “a significant impact on the quality of the education and care of our pupils”.

A spokesperson for the NCSE told TheJournal.ie that the reduction in employees at the school “takes account of the numbers of students enrolled and their disability profile”.

“Based on the student information provided by the school, the NCSE is satisfied that the revised allocation is sufficient to meet the needs of the students for the coming academic year.”

The spokesperson confirmed that representatives from the NCSE met the school’s principal in April “in advance of issuing the decision in order to signal the potential implications to the allocation arising from the reducing numbers and changing student disability profile”.

“The management and deployment of the SNA support allocated to a school is a matter for the school and should be managed by the school in a way that appropriately provides for the significant care needs of the students. Schools are required to plan and record how those care needs are supported using personal pupil plans,” they added.

15,000 SNAs 

On Wednesday, Education Minister Richard Bruton welcomed an NCSE review into the national SNA scheme.

“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 €524 million in SNAs annually, as part of a total €1.75 billion investment that we invest in special educational needs overall,” Bruton said.

He noted that the review “also found that there is some frustration regarding the narrow focus of the scheme” which the NCSE suggests “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”.

1749 Richard Bruton_90544483 Education Minister Richard Bruton Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

When asked about the situation at Sandymount School, a spokesperson said the Department of Education’s policy is to “ensure that every child who is assessed as needing SNA support will receive access to such support”.

“In considering applications for SNA supports for individual pupils, the NCSE take account of the pupils’ needs and consider the resources available to the school to identify whether additionality is needed or whether the school might reasonably be expected to meet the needs of the pupils from its current level of resources.

SNAs are not allocated to individual children but to schools as a school-based resource. SNA allocations to all schools can change from year to year as children with additional care needs leave the school, as new children with additional care needs enrol in a school and as children develop more independent living skills and their additional care needs diminish over time.

The spokesperson added that a parent or school can appeal to the NCSE if they believe that the organisation, in applying department policy, “has not allocated the appropriate level of teaching support to the school to meet the educational needs of the children in the school concerned”.

“Where a school has received its allocation of SNA support for 2018/19, but wishes new enrolments or assessments to be considered, which were not taken into account when the initial allocation was made, they may continue to make applications to the NCSE.”

The closing date for receipt of any appeals in relation to SNA allocations is Friday 28 September 2018.

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Órla Ryan

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