Fórsa supports plan for phased return to in-school special needs education
Fórsa, which represents special needs assistants (SNAs) this afternoon (1st February) agreed to support new education department proposals for the phased re-opening of special schools and special classes. The revised plan, which includes significantly enhanced safety measures for students and staff, will see special schools opening from 11th February with 50% student attendance. Special classes in other schools will reopen for all students from 22nd February.
Fórsa’s Education Division Executive Committee met this afternoon and backed the proposals, which have been developed on the basis of intense engagement with unions, and in the context of a wider phased reopening of primary and post-primary school services. The union said progress had been possible against a backdrop of declining numbers of Covid-19 cases, and the significant improvements in schools safety measures achieved since the first proposal for full reopening was announced in early January.
Fórsa said enhanced safety measures had been achieved in a range of areas including PPE, the numbers of people in classrooms, provisions for pregnant and medically-vulnerable SNAs and teachers, school transport, childcare supports, remote provision to students whose parents don’t want them to attend school, and school risk assessments. It also said SNAs – who are have recently been designated as ‘essential workers’ – would be among the first 30% of the population to receive Covid vaccinations.
The union said progress had been possible against a backdrop of declining numbers of Covid-19 cases and the significant improvements in schools safety measures achieved since the first proposal for full reopening was announced in early January.
The union said it was continuing to press for enhanced access to serial antigen testing for SNAs and other school staff.
Fórsa’s head of education, Andy Pike, said the union had set out to explore realistic measures to improve safety provision and re-build confidence in the safety of schools.
“SNAs and others working in with students with additional needs are more aware than most of the urgent need to begin the resumption of services. We have always thought this could, and should, be done in ways that underpin the safety of students, staff and the entire school community. We have achieved a solid path towards the resumption of these vital services in the shortest possible timeframe compatible with the safety of students and staff,” he said.
There is an urgent need to resume services and the union has always thought this could and should be done in ways that underpin the safety of students, staff and the entire school community.
In a communication to SNAs and other school staff issued this afternoon, Fórsa said newly-agreed safety measures, together with declining community transmission of Covid-19, meant the reopening plan was as safe as it could possibly be.
“The range of improvements secured since early January will ensure that the risk and mitigation measures will be more effective as staff return to schools from the middle of February. SNAs have continued to support students throughout the school closures and they have always been aware that they were essential to the provision of education to vulnerable students. Fórsa’s education executive has concluded that the new reopening plan represents a significant improvement on previous proposals, to the extent that it can support the plan and encourage all SNAs who are able to return to the classroom to engage with the proposals,” it said.
A copy of the communication sent by Fórsa to SNAs and other school staff this afternoon can be viewed HERE.