St Christopher’s Special School in Longford town has been told it must reduce the number of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) at the facility, sparking fears it may have to curtail enrolments.
“There have been 14 SNAs at the school for years, and now the NCSE (National Council for Special Education) has come in and said there should only be 12 assistants,” said School Board Chairperson Eugene McGee.
It is understood this decision was in fact made some time ago but the school claims it was never informed.
“This decision was pulled out of a hat two years ago,” Mr McGee continued. “And in the last few months the Government is announcing the appintment of a lot of new SNAs.”
Mr McGee went on to outline the vital role Special Needs Assistants fulfil.
“Over the past few years the students have gotten older and stronger and help is needed to handle them. It’s impossible for a teacher to physically handle some of the pupils by themselves. Some are in wheelchairs, and many more have other deficiencies. Three people are needed in some instances. The demands are so great it could lead to a curtailment in enrolments.”
Dismissing a recent NCSE inspection as a “cursory visit”, Mr McGee said St Christopher’s is a special case.
“In normal schools, teachers teach to groups but here they have to teach to individuals because they all have different needs,” he explained.
Mr McGee added that there is an appeals process open to St Christopher’s and that an application will be lodged.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the NCSE said: “The level of SNA support allocated is almost twice that recommended under Department of Education and Skills policy and reflects the extent to which the NCSE recognises the level of complex care needs requiring access to SNA support.”
The spokesperson added: “Details of all school allocations, including St Christopher’s were published on the NCSE website in June 2014, as has been the case for all schools since 2011. This enables schools to access the decisions immediately before they close for the summer.”