The Government has deferred the introduction of a new model for the allocation of Special Needs Assistants in schools that was due to be implemented this coming September.
The 'School Inclusion Model' was expected to radically change the way SNAs were allocated to schools. It envisaged a set number of SNAs in a given school, based on a general profile of that school’s needs.
It meant that schools would no longer apply directly for SNA support for individual children.
In a decision that was approved by the cabinet today, the Department of Education has deferred the roll out of the new model.
It said this is because of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Briefings that were due to be given to school leaders and others have had to be cancelled, the Department said.
Occupational and other therapists who were working on a pilot of the new model in a number of schools have also been recalled by the HSE to work in different roles for the duration of the current crisis.
The Department said that schools will now have their SNA allocation frozen at current levels for next September.
It said that any school that needs additional resources because of new children enrolled or a child newly diagnosed will be able to apply for extra SNA support.
The proposals had received a mixed reception from representatives across the education sector.
Last month the trade union representing SNAs said the model promised some benefits for students, schools and staff, but Fórsa also expressed concern that the changes had the potential to 'slow down' expenditure on SNA provision.
The Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education had argued that the new model would lead to better outcomes for children by "frontloading" SNA provision.
It said it would cut out the need for a professional diagnosis before a child could benefit from SNA support.
However some school principals had expressed concern that it did not allow for additional SNA resources if a school enrolled an additional child with needs, or if a child already attending the school was subsequently diagnosed to require support.
According to the Department of Education the new model - as well as setting the allocation of SNAs according to a profile of individual schools – also contains other changes.
It includes a new training programme to be offered to SNAs "designed to equip them with the skills and knowledge to support students with additional care needs arising from significant medical, physical, emotional/behavioural, sensory, communication and other significant difficulties that pose a barrier to participating in school life".
Announcing the deferral Minister for Education Joe McHugh said; "It is important that we can give schools and families of children with additional needs clarity and certainty on the resources and supports that will be available from September.
He said SNAs were a vital part of that. He said no school would receive a lower allocation of SNA support for September 2020 than they currently have.
"That means that SNAs who are currently employed will have jobs in the next school year," he said.
The department said that a circular will issue to schools in the coming weeks with information on the interim arrangements for the 2020/21 school year.