This has been a very busy week. It was another successful week completed at school, a week that saw Puppy Holly finally returned to her owners and a week that also saw parents of Special Needs children take to the streets and to the airwaves, as they protest against very severe Special Needs Education cuts.
This demographic group of people are not an easy group to galvanise in order to make their voices heard, you know. They are not victims but it does take enormous efforts in order for them to take to the streets, or to get to radio and TV stations etc to take a stand and fight for their children's consitutional and human rights.
Sorry, I apologise - I must be careful not to use sensational language here. Minister Rabitte might be reading and he might consider my statement above to be mere 'Hype'.
I heard a number of such ridiculous statements from two Ministers this week and I
On Monday (I think) Ruaidhri Quinn, Minister for Education, was on Newstalk Radio discussing his interesting plans for our Points System when he was thrown an apparent curveball in the final moments. He was asked about his thoughts on the SNA (Special Needs Assistant) cuts and in particular how they related to two specific specialised schools. His response, in line with his written response to my previous email to him, basically threw everything back on to the NCSE (the educational psychologists who assess the children and make recommendations) and the SENOs (who assess the children in school, check SNA allocations in each school and decide where the SNA axe falls.) They are the experts, he said. He can't have any say in their decisions, he's not qualified, you see.
I know you're not long in the job Minister Quinn but here's a little tip....YOU ARE THEIR BOSS. They are hired by the department that you are in charge of. Oh, and they make their decisions in line with criteria YOU set like, for example: the cap YOU set on the allocation of SNAs/Resource hours that they can sanction. They are also covered by a previous NCSE circular which appears to limit SNA allocations to available resources and effectively allows SENO's , without any medical qualifications whatsover, to over-rule the recommendations of a clinical psychologist. This may have been introduced by the previous administration but it's now your baby. Just in case you're under any illusions, like.
It is simply not good enough that they seperate their duties like that. The minister dictates criteria, NCSE and SENOs carry out their assessments and recommendations and inform the school who allocates the reduced resources as best they can. Due to the separation created between each of them no-one takes charge or is accountable and they can blame the other party. Well Minister Quinn: nice try but you ARE the accountable one.
The protest march took place on Wednesday and it was attended by a relatively small yet vociferous crowd, including yours truly. There were some great speeches and some chanting too. Minister Rabitte was interviewed out of earshot of us mere mortals and the interview shown on TV3 later that night. He made some ill thought-out remarks, I must say. The first one being the Hype one I mention above.....
This (us outside)... hype.. he said.
Ehh....I don't think the parents of children receiving 1 hour's education A DAY think they're hyping anything, Mr Rabitte. None of us are. We can see what's happening on the ground. You and your colleague Minister Quinn could too, if you cared to pay a visit to any of our schools and witness the effects of your vicious cuts.
Minister Rabitte told us a number of times that there was no money. Where are we going to get the money he pondered? You didn't try that line on Bank Of Ireland the previous week did you? And I'm pretty sure you didn't try it on AIB the very next day either, as you and your colleagues ploughed more billions into both their coffers to pay senior unsecured bondholders. You wouldn't consider even half-burning the bond holders, yet your Government has no problem in removing crucial educational supports from vulnerable children that will affect ALL in the classroom. And that's not HYPE, Minister Rabitte, that's FACT.
He told us all was ok, sure don't they allocate....what's that catch-all phrase again? Oh, yeah.... Access to an SNA
ACCESS TO SNA is NOT working Mr Rabitte. How can an SNA leave a high dependent child in one class to attend to a less dependent one in another? How can she attend to 2 children in 2 different classrooms (it's not always possible to keep them together) who need toileting, feeding or medication? The answer is that they can't, so other children are losing out. It's not that simple to just grant access to an SNA, hand it over to the school to deal with as you casually wipe your hands of the whole thing. Did you know, Ministers Quinn and Rabitte, that there are SNAs in schools all over Ireland not just practising the skills of bi-location but are actually tri-locating? That's not good for anyone, no-one could possibly benefit from this.
Minister Rabitte pointed out the huge increase in the numbers of SNAs since 2001, a reference no doubt to a perceived unsustainabilty now.
Ehh.... the huge SNA increase is largely due to the huge increase in Special Needs children attending mainstream school over that period. It is worth noting that it was the previous Government's policy to encourage (force in some cases) inclusion of special needs children into mainstream schools. They even *ahem* convinced some ABA schools to forego their status and become eclectic, specialised schools, before commencing the cull of SNAs. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that they quietly encouraged this creative application of the SNA care needs in order to make inclusion as successful as it has been, in most cases. At the very least they turned a blind eye to it. SNA allocation in specialised schools increased also but it's not like they're sitting around doing nothing all day. Jeez
Oh, and we are expecting your play on words now that the September 16th deadline is up. You know, when you assess new applications and release the 10% resources you held back. Don't go messing with our heads now and saying things like 'we've increased the allocations.' We're not that easily fooled.
It was pointed out that parents, schools etc misunderstood the SNA scheme...
NO....we DIDN'T misunderstand the SNA scheme, we were creative in getting the help our children need. And that help has proven largely successful.
This is all incredibly frustrating. These particular cuts are short term gain for long term pain, in my opinion.
We cannot let this slide by, we must continue to do our best to make our voices heard and to keep this topic alive in the public eye. We must not 'go away'. There are many ways we can make our voices heard, we can do it whilst supporting others as we constantly text radio and TV shows that are high-lighting the issue. We can continue protesting but that's hard to maintain. I do like the suggestion that we do an electronic bombardment. Everyone can easily take part in that.
Yes, we need to be creative and keep shouting.
All the children need us to continue to make our voices heard.
We could do with your support....this issue affects ALL in the classroom not just the Special Needs child.