The cap on special needs assistants (SNAs ) and the withdrawal of the appeals system for parents where special needs assistant hours are cut or discontinued is simply unjust, said Marian Harkin MEP. Ms Harkin has called for SNA hours to be maintained throughout the primary education sector.
“I have, over the past two years, met many families who are distraught about the fact that their son/daughter with special needs is being denied the necessary SNA hours needed to ensure that their children can fully benefit from educational opportunities,” she said.
“We have the situation where special needs children are competing with other children over the hours allocated to schools. Parents often find themselves in a battle of ‘my child needs more help than yours’ and schools are placed in an extremely difficult situation, having to make decisions as to which children will benefit and which do not.
“Up to now, there was an appeals system whereby parents could appeal the decision of a special educational needs organiser (SENO ) on the allocation of SNA hours to children, or refusal to grant any hours,” she added. “This facility has been withdrawn and parents feel totally helpless and excluded from the process. Sometimes I hear groups describe themselves as vulnerable and, in truth, not all of their members are. All children with special needs, starting off in primary school and those progressing through the system, are surely among the most vulnerable when they are denied the help and assistance they so desperately need. Their life chances, their opportunities to make progress in education in the world in general are very often determined by their progress, or lack of it, in primary school.
“It is heart breaking for parents and simply unjust for special needs children not to be offered the help and support they deserve.”