Government plans for special education ‘unrealistic’ under new lockdown measures – Fórsa
Fórsa trade union, which represents more than 12,000 staff in primary and secondary schools throughout the country, including special needs assistants (SNAs) and school secretaries, has said government plans, under the latest lockdown measures, to keep special education schools and special classes in mainstream schools open for an estimated 15,000 pupils are unrealistic.
The union’s head of education Andy Pike (pictured) said the union is supportive of the policy to maintain service for students with special education needs (SEN), but he said it is unrealistic to expect schools to re-open in the normal way.
Andy said: “There are a number of factors to consider here, starting with the responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment for all employees.
Social distancing isn’t possible and bus transport poses a significant risk of Covid transmission while community infection rates remain high.
“In this respect, re-opening special schools and classes presents challenges that just cannot be met. Social distancing isn’t possible and bus transport poses a significant risk of Covid transmission while community infection rates remain high.
“We need to look at how support for our SEN students was delivered through the summer programmes as well as other structured remote supports during previous restrictions. It would be safer and better to provide a deliverable, streamlined service. Fórsa’s view is that a limited service could be delivered, as it was during the summer months last year,” he said.
Andy said the closure of all schools means there will be SNAs with child caring responsibilities unable to provide a service: “Feedback from our SNA members indicates that many will not be able to attend work due to lack of childcare and valid safety concerns.
We know from experience that there is no room for error here and we want to avoid placing students and staff at any unnecessary risk.
“The union will be asking boards of managements of schools involved to confirm they can provide a safe working environment, as provided for in legislation. We know from experience, and from the recent rapid rise in infections and hospitalisations, that there is no room for error here, and we want to avoid placing students and staff at any unnecessary risk.
“To that end, practical alternatives need to be considered, utilising the measures employed last summer to deliver education to SEN students while minimising any risks,” he said.
Andy said Fórsa’s elected education executive meets this evening to review the situation, and the union said it will issue advice to members as early as possible tomorrow (Thursday).