Delegates at Fórsa’s Education conference in Portlaoise have today backed a motion calling on the union to engage with Government and education ministers to provide immediate support to school students with special education needs, in their preparation for life beyond secondary school.
The union policy was backed unanimously by the 160 delegates attending the conference. It seeks to ensure students can progress and reach their full potential by accessing third level education, apprenticeships, other vocational training or into the workplace.
Position paper for National Progression Framework
Fórsa will launch its position paper for a National Progression Framework for students with additional care needs at the conference this afternoon. The union says people with a disability are under-represented both in further and higher education, and in the workplace.
Proposing the motion, special needs assistant Carol McSherry said the union welcomes and endorses the National Access Plan, a strategic action plan for equity of access, recently published by the Higher Education Authority.
Ms McSherry added: “The National Access Plan is designed to target and support students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and students from the Irish Traveller community.
“Today we call for the recommendations contained in the National Access Plan to be actioned immediately, including the development of policies and implementation plans to promote meaningful participation of students with intellectual disabilities.
“We commend the valuable work of our SNAs with children and young adults in schools and the vitally important role they play in assisting the students they work with to complete their education.
“We’re disappointed at the lack of support that exists for these students for the next stage of their life journey, so it is vital that the action points in the National Access Plan are fully implemented,” she said.
Ms McSherry highlighted figures that illustrate increases in demand for educational supports, and projections that indicate this trend is likely to continue: “At post-primary level, it is estimated that 17.9% of 13-year-olds have some form of special education need.
“AHEAD’s 2021 analysis of 2019/2020 data shows there’s been consistent year-on-year growth in the numbers of students with disabilities registering with support services in higher education, an increase of over 220% in the last 11 years.
“These figures show that we need to plan properly, and respond appropriately, to ensure those students to whom we provide support can have a quality experience beyond second level school. That they can aspire to achieving their potential, and exercising their own choices as they prepare to complete their secondary education,” she said.
Clarity on support for special need students
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, addressed the Fórsa conference this morning. In his response to the minister, Fórsa’s head of Education Andy Pike called on the minister to continue her work with the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) to bring clarity on the direction of the special education sector.
He added: “In 2018 the NCSE review of the Special Needs Assistant scheme was published. It set out a new course for the provision of supports for students with additional care needs, a framework for education and training for SNAs./ It also called for greater clarity on terms and conditions, proposed a new three-year ‘frontloading’ allocation cycle and proposed a new Schools Inclusion Model,” he said.
However, Mr Pike said that five years after the review was published, there have been false starts and confusion. “Some clarity is needed on the direction of Government policy. We understand why frontloading cannot be implemented as it stands, and we know that the department has no wish to see significant turmoil or job losses for SNAs. However, the school sector does need to know what the future holds,” he said.
Mr Pike also told the minister the Government’s decision to end the ban on no-fault evictions will affect Fórsa members. “The housing crisis is having effect on many of our members struggling with rising costs to their rents and mortgages. The decision to end the ban on no fault evictions will affect Fórsa members.
“Whilst freeing up more housing supply is a critical issue, it should not be addressed through inflicting homelessness on tenants who will not be able to find alternative accommodation.
“The prospect of low paid public servants being counted amongst the homeless is very real and very damaging, our policy is that the ban should remain until such time as the supply of affordable housing is significantly increased,” he said.
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