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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Being part of the problem

I’ve just got an email in relation to a protest next week about the reduction in SNA posts. It’s an issue I put a motion to Wexford Borough Council last October asking that SNA’s be retained. Despite the motion the 2011 budget cut the funding and when Ruairi Quinn became Education Minister he accepted the FF Green plans. When schools closed for Summer some SNA’s were let go. A circular letter from the Department said that schools would get 90% of their SNA allocation before the Summer and the 10% balance would be re-assessed in September. In the intervening period there exists the uncertainty for an SNA as to whether they will ever get a job again doing what they love. On the other hand there is the cap of 10,575 full time equivalent posts, a reduction of 200 posts on 2010.

Why is it so that so many parents are exercised? Not so much that all the parents believe that they will lose a SNA completely, they clearly won’t. More because we have a record in the country of not providing for children with learning difficulties. More because many parents have learnt that the only way to get something is to fight for it. There is a fear there among parents. The reality of that fear bonds these parents together and ironically for the Department of Education makes them a greater lobby than if the department had funded the SNA and learning intervention historically. The National School system was founded on a premise in 1832 of “If it can’t be efficient make it cheap, and if it can’t be cheap make it efficient”. Any minister in the department needs Dr Who’s tardis to understand this department’s century old policy. It was the original social department of the state, predating social welfare, health and outlasting Lands and the Gaeltacht. Inspectors for the department visited children in the care of religious orders at residential homes and some were concerned at what they knew but the department turned a blind eye. I always suspect being a member of the Knights of Columbanus was central to getting on in some government departments like Education.

It seems to me that Wexford is worse affected by the reduction in SNA hours comparatively more than anywhere else. Why? The matter was raised at a VEC meeting where we were given the Departmental press release that blamed the increase on numbers qualifying for SNA’s on pressure by parents on professionals to produce reports that would result in the child getting an SNA. Professionals buckling at the prospect of parent power? That’s a new one on me, one that I find hard to swallow as it conflicts with what parents in Wexford told me when I visited a school here last year. Parents were concerned that there child was been given a 10 minute assessment in a classroom situation after which a decision was made on the application for an SNA. Questions were asked about the consistency on a national level of decisions on similar applications and the inconsistency of qualifications of those deciding on who got an SNA. Rather than parental pressure being the cause of the upsurge it strikes me that the pressure was downward from the department on those deciding on applications for SNA’s.

The department has seen it all before and will see it again, The department will survive and endure. That’s the problem. Education come’s pretty far down the department’s list of priorities. Time moves on and the world is a different place. That proves true for everywhere except in Marlboro St. For parents of children relying on SNA’s challenging the economic orthodoxy is one thing but taking on the mandarins at the Department of Education may well be a step into the unknown. In the past they’ve pursued a sex abuse victim of the principal convicted of these offences as she had the temerity to seek compensation from the Department. Cutting striking teachers pay in Christmas week didn’t cost this Department a second thought.

As a department it’s dysfunctional but can’t be abolished, how else would we provide for education? Ruairi Quinn has a job of work to make the department human. I wish him well and I hope that when the remaining SNA hour4s are reviewed in September that the matter that affects Wexford is resolved.

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