At present Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) are appointed on the advice of a psychologist only when a child has been assessed at stage 3 of the Three Step Model. However, the recent circular 24/03 suggests that special needs assistants should only be appropriate where a pupil has a significant medical need or where there behaviour is a danger to themselves or other people.
The Special Needs Assistant will be in school at the same time as the child so if the child is in infant class and leaves at 2 p.m. then so will the SNA. In practice most SNAs work around 12 and a half hours per week.
Special Needs Assistants are allocated to particular children and should normally move with the child from class to class and year to year. It is possible that the assistant may move onto secondary school also with the child.
There is no uniform set of tasks for a Special Needs Assistant – they are to be managed as a school resource, though primarily for the needs of the child to whom they were allocated. Special Needs Assistants are not to be allocated to teaching duties. The latest circular suggests that where special needs assistants are employed to help with toileting and feeding, that the amount of care should diminish as the pupil gets older.
If a teacher is unsure of how best to use the Special Needs Assistant he/she should speak to the psychologist attached to the school.
For discussion: Case Studies
The Role of Special Needs Assistants
Classroom assistants are appointed on the advice of a psychologist almost always when a child has a statement.
Occasionally if a child without a statement is in danger of expulsion, a classroom assistant can be appointed if it will allow the child to remain in school.
Classroom assistants are allocated to particular children and should normally move with the child from class to class and year to year. In addition when a child is changing from primary to post-primary school, the classroom assistant will be given the opportunity to move too.
There are no uniform set of tasks for a classroom assistant – they are to be managed as a school resource, though primarily for the needs of the child to whom they were allocated.
The number of hours allocated to each particular child is determined by need and there is a table of disability categories with banding from mild to profound, to help the education advisor apply this.
If a teacher is unsure of how best to use the classroom assistant he/she should speak to the psychologist attached to the school.
In post-primary school there is a less-structured approach as there are more practical subjects where smaller class numbers apply. In this case negotiation takes place between the advisor and the principal.
Margaret has working as a classroom assistant in the school for 20 years. When she started, children with special needs were uncommon in the school and little was expected of them. Now there are several children in the class and each child is expected to achieve his/her potential and to be independent wherever possible. However, when children are given work, Margaret’s idea of helping them is to do it for them, e.g. given four sentences to order and stick down, Margaret numbers the parts for the children. After P.E. she takes off Calum’s slippers and puts on his shoes even though he is 8 and has problems other than a speech disorder. If the teacher tells him to do it himself, Margaret will say that it is quicker if she does it. Because the children in this class have speech and language problems, they are encouraged to collaborate and discuss work. Margaret frequently can be found telling them to be quiet and get on with their work.