AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


AHEAD response to An Bord Snip Nua recommendation to reduce SNA's in the classroom

Press Release: AHEAD is shocked by the recommendation to cut special needs assistants - An Bord Snip Nua does not understand the implications of the recommendation to reduce the number of special needs assistants.

If an Bord Snip Nua had recommended that your child would not be able to learn in school, that she would not learn key skills such as reading and writing and that school would effectively become for her just a babysitting service, that she would be four times less likely to make it to third level, what would you do? How would you feel?

Because this is what will happen to many children with disabilities who could loose their special assistants in the classroom. The NCSE 2006 report estimates that there are 86,083 children with special needs in the education system. This includes many able children with physical and sensory disabilities who learn differently, for example blind children and 64,562 children with specific learning difficulties who use computers and assistive technology to access information and to read and write. In a classroom of over 30 other children these children will not learn equally without appropriate supports which includes SNAs.

The education system for children with disabilities is not ideal and many children are currently being discriminated against in education, for example blind and visually impaired children are four times less likely to go on to higher education than their non disabled brothers and sisters. This is not an ability issue but an issue of an education system that is not designed to include children who learn differently, therefore accommodations and supports have to be added on in order for them to learn. Without the support of the Special Needs Assistant many of these children will not receive an education and will exist on the edge of the classroom becoming a problem for an already over stretched teacher, let us not forget that the class sizes were increased last year.

Yet the Government is clearly committed to mainstreaming and ensuring that all disabled children can go to their local school and the system is improving and changes are being made to include disabled children. The Department of Education and Science has recognised that this means providing supports and accommodations so that disabled children can take part and to exercise their rights to an education which is after all enshrined in the EPSEN ACT 2004 in the Disabilities Act 2005 and in the Equality legislation.

Therefore, it is difficult to understand the thinking behind cuts which target disadvantaged children directly. If the recommended cuts are implemented it will result in disabled children taking a disproportionate brunt of the cutbacks which would not be accepted for other non disabled children. These severe cuts clearly show no understanding at all of what disability is or of the impact of disability in a classroom designed for non disabled children. The system is designed around the child who can learn through reading and writing, by looking at the blackboard, taking down notes etc, so supports are needed to allow the disabled child to learn on any sort of equal footing. Supports such as technology and Special Needs Assistants are not nice luxuries to have in a classroom but are essential to learning and make a profound difference to the ability of the child to read and write. Key decision makers should grasp the fact that with the right teaching and supports these children will do well and reach the same standards as other children.

It seems unthinkable to take away 2,000 SNAs at the very time when we are seeing real improvements for children with disabilities and furthermore seeing returns on the significant investment made by the DES in mainstreaming education to date. Over the past five years there has been a steady increase in the numbers of children with disability going on to third level courses across all areas. There are now over 4,000 students with disabilities in higher education which would have been unheard of twenty years ago when the expectation for disabled people was to live on welfare or go to sheltered employment.

We have come a long way from the discriminatory thinking of the past and young people with disabilities now have the same aspirations of careers and lives as anyone else. Do not take this away from them by removing the supports they need to learn and to exercise their rights to be part of the community of a school. We cannot ask these children to carry a disproportionate brunt of a financial crisis in which they had no hand or part in creating. We must protect the rights of all the children of this state to exercise their right to an appropriate education. Otherwise the future is indeed bleak.

Ann Heelan
Executive director
AHEAD UCD, Carysfort Ave
Co. Dublin

Phone: +353 1 592 1467
Email: ahead@ahead.ie
Website: www.ahead.ie

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Creating Inclusive Environments in Education and Employment for People with Disabilities

East Hall, UCD, Carysfort Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
T +353 1 592 1467 E ahead@ahead.ie W www.ahead.ie RCN 20025182