The trade union representing special needs assistants (SNAs) has repeated calls for a new minimum qualification to be set for the role.

Fórsa said the current requirement for three passes in the Junior Certificate is outdated and does not recognise the skill and commitment of staff in the Irish education sector.

SNA members of the union are to contact TDs and Senators over the coming weeks as part of a campaign for change.

They will be asking politicians to sign a pledge to support Fórsa's call for a review of the minimum qualification and to promote awareness of the "complex role" of SNAs.

The union's head of education said SNAs are not "being respected or recognised as skilled and committed staff" in the Irish education sector.

"This campaign has been designed to change that, to give the professional recognition and respect to SNAs that they deserve, and to modernise the qualification requirements for this skilled and invaluable service," Andy Pike said.

Mr Pike said establishing a more professional qualification, at QQI Level 6, would increase the standing of SNAs within the school system and secure proper recognition for their work, as well as reflecting that many SNAs already hold qualifications at degree level, while most have achieved at least a Level 6 qualification.

Fórsa said many schools already seek a Level 6 qualification, and do not appoint new SNAs unless they already hold a Level 5 award.

Mr Pike said the Department of Education was ignoring the lived reality of the SNAs in its employment and was out of step with international standards.

The union said many other countries require candidates for SNA posts to have a college diploma or Level 6 equivalent qualification.

"Our members are ready now to take the discussion to their local TDs, and to senators, and make them aware of this anomaly.

"They will appeal to them directly to support the case for updating the minimum qualification standards," Mr Pike said.

The SNA qualification has not been altered since the statutory SNA scheme was first established in 1979.

Mr Pike said the union wants it replaced with the relevant QQI qualification because the service provided by SNAs has changed considerably since its establishment.

Fórsa met department officials at the Workplace Relations Commission earlier this year to advance the union's claim.

In a letter sent to the union in July, the department said there was no need to change the qualification requirement.