Fórsa is to advise special needs assistants (SNAs) to co-operate with the phased resumption of in-school services to children with special educational needs (SEN) if the education department agrees to progress a range of Covid measures that would underpin the safety of students and staff.
The union’s Education Division, which represents over 12,000 schools-based staff including SNAs, met today (Wednesday) and adopted a policy paper that set out the measures necessary to make classrooms and other school settings safe.
Fórsa says it accepts that these can’t all be put in place right away. But the union is seeking immediate action on those that can, and concrete proposals for the roll-out of the rest.
Fórsa has recommended the phased resumption of services, with reduced or staggered attendance in the first instance “to reduce the number of individuals on site at any one time, whilst providing much needed structure and stability for SEN students and their families.”
The Fórsa position paper also calls for:
· A NPHET assessment of, and briefing on, the safety of staff and SEN students attending schools during this phase of the pandemic, with reference to testing data in schools and the community. It says this should explain differences in rates of transmission by age, and assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures.
· The prioritisation of school staff for receipt of the Covid-19 vaccination, in light of their recent designation as essential workers.
· Serial school-based Covid-19 testing similar to that in place for essential workers in health, social care and the meat industry, with priority for SNAs who cannot maintain social distancing in the classroom.
· Fresh risk assessments prior to the re-opening of school services, to ensure compliance with public health guidelines and established mitigation measures – including the use of PPE by SNAs who cannot maintain social distancing in the classroom. The union says this requires the provision of surgical masks and face visors.
· Acceptance that SNAs with high risk medical conditions should not be required to work in classrooms.
· A review of guidance for bus transport, and the enforcement of guidance on the use of PPE and other measures on buses.
· An audit of the demand for attendance among SEN students in view of the fact that some will not be able to attend schools because of serious underlying medical conditions.
· The dissemination of information on available childcare in each school, and agreed contingency plans – including remote working and other solutions – for those who cannot access normal arrangement because of the closure of mainstream schools childcare providers.
Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike called on the Government to act on these measures to speed the resumption of services to students with special educational needs and build confidence in the safety of classrooms among staff, students and parents.
We are calling on the Department of Education and individual schools to work with us to rebuild confidence and start the resumption of school-based SEN services as quickly and safely as possible.
“The official position is that schools are safe places, even as we are at the peak of transmission of the virus. Whilst additional mitigation measures have been in place in schools since August, many staff do not have full confidence that schools are safe places to work and study. We are calling on the Department of Education and individual schools to work with us to rebuild confidence and start the resumption of school-based SEN services as quickly and safely as possible,” he said.