Survey reveals dearth of training provision
Fórsa will announce its intention today to establish a professional institute for special needs assistants (SNAs). The institute would set professional standards, support training, and underpin the validation of qualifications in a push to improve provision to children with special needs by further professionalising the SNA role.
The move comes as a survey of almost 2,700 SNAs revealed that, while most held qualifications significantly above minimum requirements, neither the Department of Education nor individual schools provide them with access to adequate basic or ongoing professional training. Instead, most training in the field is either self-financed or trade union-provided.
The survey results are being unveiled today (Thursday) at Fórsa’s Education Division conference in Dublin, which Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton will address this afternoon.
2,700 SNAs revealed that neither the Department nor individual schools provide them with access to basic or ongoing professional training.
The Fórsa survey found that 97% of SNAs hold qualifications beyond the required FETAC level three, three junior cert grade Ds, or equivalent. A majority hold either FETAC level five (30%) or level six (27%). 11% have attained an ordinary degree and 10% an honours degree, while another 10% have a leaving cert.
Fórsa deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said the survey demonstrated that children with special educational needs benefit from a highly-qualified SNA cadre. But he criticised the dearth of continuous professional development in the service.
“These results scotch the view of some – including many parents – that SNAs are poorly qualified. They also bolster the case for more systematic professionalisation of the role, and for better access to relevant continuous professional development. Neither schools nor the education department are doing anything to achieve this. That’s why Fórsa is working towards the establishment of an SNA’s professional institute, which would function in a similar way to other professional bodes in education, health and elsewhere,” he said.
Fórsa organiser Grace Williams said the results underlined the need for both the education department and individual schools to up their game on professional development, to ensure the best outcomes for children.
Fórsa organiser Grace Williams, who conducted the survey, said the results underlined the need for both the education department and individual schools to up their game on professional development, to ensure the best outcomes for children.
“Special needs education is a precarious occupation. But the levels of experience revealed in the research are impressive, with over 60% of respondents having worked as an SNA for more than a decade. In all that time, very few will have had access to any officially-provided training or professional development. Most are either self-educated, or they access professional training provided by Fórsa. It’s neither possible nor appropriate for the union to provide all the necessary training. Parents expect and deserve to get official support to ensure their children get the best possible school experience,” she said.
Ms Williams said the absence of employer-provided training flew in the face of a 2011 Education Department review of the service and a more recent Joint Oireachtas Committee report, both of which recommended ongoing professional training. The 2016 Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection report into the role of SNAs called for “mandatory, standardised training” and the establishment of minimum standards to support “further professionalisation of the role.”
Read the survey results HERE.