Axe the cap on Special Needs Assistants. Reverse SNA cuts.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was forced into a u-turn last week and reversed a cut in resource teaching hours to schoolchildren with special needs. This news was welcomed by teachers, the INTO, children, schools and families alike.
However, several other cuts affecting special needs children were not reversed. Over 2,000 extra children with autism, physical disabilities, severe learning disabilities, and others in mainstream schools are having to share insufficient special needs assistant (SNA) support.
Minister Quinn is maintaining the cap on the numbers of SNAs even though the number of children receiving SNA support is increasing significantly.
Over 250 parents, workers, children and supporters demonstrated in Galway on Wednesday 26 June as children, whose care needs have not fallen, will have less SNA support from September. There were representatives from the INTO, and many parents with children from the ‘Galway Autism Partnership’ (GAP0 and ‘Down Syndrome Galway’ groups). Children held homemade placards, and others were holding signs saying ‘Shame on Labour’ and ‘Shame on Fine Gael’.
One parent told how children receiving July provision at home would previously have 40 hours allocated per child automatically, but that support has been cut this year. Where there are two siblings in one home they will have to share the tutor and hours normally provided for just one of the children. This applies regardless of their differing ages, needs and abilities, so they only receive half the previous tuition granted. It is not known if appeals will succeed.
A parent with GAP explained that the HSE embargo meant that waiting lists were getting longer, meaning some children were not even accessing necessary clinical supports. Children with Down Syndrome are not automatically getting resource hours in school and children with Down Syndrome, and neurodevelopmental disorders are not entitled to July provision.
Roberto, a woman from France, attended the protest. Having worked as a special needs assistant, she realises what a necessary and vital role they play in a child’s life and in the running of a classroom. She felt that she had to support the demonstration against SNA cuts. “It is a good idea to demonstrate to let people know exactly what is going on,” she said.”We must target politicians as their decisions are badly affecting children’s lives.”
Under the Fianna Fail/Green government, Special Need Assistant support was cut. In April 2010, Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said: “At a time when we are recapitalising the banks, is it not morally indefensible that the current government stands over the abolition of SNAs to the most vulnerable children in Irish education?”
So what has changed, apart from the fact that FG are now the coalition government with the Labour Party?
In the 2011 budget, the State approved tax relief for foreign executives who sent their children to private schools. Fees up to €5,000 p.a. could be written off. Also, 30 per cent of all income accruing to foreign executives up to €500,000 a year was automatically written off for tax. This totals a potential saving of €52,275. The same budget cut the income of those in receipt of rent supplement and social welfare.
Too many children are falling between the cracks in the education and the health system. Funding and resources need to be increased to cater for the needs of these vulnerable children. We are calling for a full reversal of special needs cuts, which we can help fund by stopping the special tax concessions for those that don’t even need them.