The trade union Fórsa has advised members who are special needs assistants that it is not safe for them to work on summer programmes established to support children with disabilities until the Department of Education publishes guidelines on managing associated risks.

In a communication to SNA members, the union says that without guidance schools do not know how many students can attend the special programmes, what personal protective equipment - such as masks - will be required, and what will be needed in terms of other hygiene measures.

Three programmes are due to run this summer to support school students with moderate or profound intellectual disabilities and with conditions such as autism.

Programmes run by the Department of Education will be based either in a school or at home.

A third separate programme is being run by the Health Service Executive.

The schemes will be staffed by teachers and/or SNAs.

Parents and schools have complained about delays in the publication of guidelines for the schemes.

The Department of Education has said it hopes to have guidelines completed shortly.

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Fórsa said a survey of 4,600 SNAs shows that a higher proportion are willing to work within a school-based service this year compared to programmes run in previous years.

34% of SNAs said they were willing, compared to 26% in previous years.

The main reason cited for not being willing to participate was a lack of information about managing risks associated with Covid-19.

SNAs have also expressed dissatisfaction with pay rates of €16 per hour.

The union, in its communication to its members, pointed out that this compares to €38.33 per hour paid to teachers working on the programme.

It said this represents the most significant barrier to SNA participation in the home-based support programme.

Fórsa also warned of potential insurance problems with the home-based service as well as a possible requirement to alter car insurance policies in order to be able to transport students.

The union has raised its concerns at the lack of guidelines in a submission to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response.

In its submission it said the lack of official guidance is deterring many schools and staff from opting in to summer programmes.