‘Elitist and insulting’ to exclude SNAs from Oireachtas Special Committee on the Covid-19 Response
Fórsa trade union, which represents 15,000 non-teaching staff in the education sector, has described the decision to exclude SNAs and other school staff from attending today’s session of the Oireachtas Special Committee on the Covid-19 Response as ‘elitist and insulting’.
The committee is due to discuss the re-opening of schools today will include contributions from teachers unions and parents representative bodies. Fórsa, which has 10,000 special needs assistants (SNAs) in membership, said the voice and experience of SNAs and school support staff should be heard by the committee.
These are education workers with extensive experience of the school environment and a clear understanding of the particular challenges of re-opening schools in the coming months.
The head of the union’s Education division Andy Pike said: “There is no excuse for the chair of the committee (Michael McNamara TD) to exclude the voice of these education workers. They have extensive experience of the school environment and a clear understanding of the particular challenges of re-opening schools in the coming months.
“Our members are very disappointed that the committee did not feel that their voice should be heard in this discussion. We had hoped that attitudes towards special education had changed and that the voice of SNAs, as a significant staff group in education, would be respected.
“It’s no surprise that, yet again, our schools support staff, such as secretaries and caretakers, have also been ignored. We can assure the chair of the committee that Fórsa will redouble its efforts to ensure that the voices of the thousands of non-teaching staff are heard, and that their work is valued. Ignoring their contribution in schools and excluding them from discussion in re-opening schools is frankly elitist and insulting,” he said.
Fórsa made a detailed submission to the Oireachtas Covid-19 Response Committee in June, detailing the potential problems faced by SNAs, school secretaries, caretakers and cleaners.
Ignoring their contribution in schools and excluding them from discussion in re-opening schools is frankly elitist and insulting.
Fórsa’s submission covers particular challenges in the delivery of special education needs, including:
- Challenges on social distancing requirements: SNAs will not be able to maintain a social distance of one or two metres while working with students
- SNAs will be working very closely with students to meet their care needs. Social distancing is not possible when assisting with peg feeding, meeting hygiene needs or providing assistance in the classroom
- Adequate PPE, including face visors, in addition to clear advice on how to carry out the role safely without social distancing, is urgently needed
- Working in pods will not work for SNAs split between different classrooms providing assistance to several students, sometimes in different year groups
- Schools will require additional funding for specialist deep-cleaning. While SNAs will disinfect commonly used surfaces along with all school staff, it will not be appropriate for them to be tasked with the deep cleaning of school buildings, which is a specialist role.
Fórsa has requested that specific guidance be issued to the 17,000 SNAs working in the schools sector on how they can best meet the needs of students while maintaining health and safety for themselves and also for their students some of whom have underlying health conditions.