Fórsa, which represents over 13,000 special needs assistants (SNAs), along with school secretaries and caretakers, has today (Monday) welcomed the Government’s financial package to support the reopening of schools, saying it would boost confidence that schools can reopen safely at the end of August.
But the union warned that some flexibility will be needed in measures designed to facilitate the reopening of services in special schools and settings, because children there may become extremely anxious following the introduction of necessary safety measures like face coverings. Approximately 7,000 of the country’s 17,000 SNAs work in such settings.
The union’s head of education Andy Pike said he would raise these concerns in a meeting with Minister for Special Education Jacinta Madigan on Wednesday (29th July).
The discussions that led to today’s schools package were very constructive, and the Department of Education has taken account of the latest HSE public health advice on reopening schools.
“The discussions that led to today’s schools package were very constructive, and the Department of Education has taken account of the latest HSE public health advice on reopening schools. Everyone in the schools community will have to step up, as there is now a lot to do in a short period of time.
“Fórsa does have concerns about how best to maintain the safety of children and SNAs working in special settings where the introduction of PPE and other safety measures will be necessary. SNAs and others support children with the most acute needs in these settings. The children often display very challenging behaviours, which could be exacerbated by anxiety provoked by the introduction of safety measures aimed at protecting students and staff. This will need to be kept under close review,“ he said.
Fórsa said the overall package set out by the education minister contains provisions which should ensure that the return to school is as safe as possible.
Fórsa said the overall package set out by the education minister contains provisions which should ensure that the return to school is as safe as possible. But it said more work was needed on infection control training for SNAs, and other measures that would be implemented locally.
“We all want to see schools reopened by the end of next month. The scale of the challenge for SNAs, school secretaries and caretakers – and the experience they bring to ensuring the best possible supports for vulnerable children – is often overlooked. Fórsa will continue to raise issues of concern with the minister and the department in the weeks ahead,” said Mr Pike.