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Call for more special-needs supports

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GOODWILL George Moran, Principal of Breaffy NS, who says his school has been extremely fortunate that SNAs have willing to step in and volunteer in a full-time capacity.


SNAs in Breaffy volunteering to overcome shortfalls


Edwin McGreal

The principal of one of the largest national schools in Mayo has called on the Government to provide more funding for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs).
George Moran, Principal of Breaffy NS outside Castlebar, said funding is needed because of more diagnosed needs among children and also because of Covid-19.
SNAs are not able to move as freely between classes as before Covid, due to the nature of schools bubbles and segregation – therefore the scope of assigned SNAs to cover all of their bases has been somewhat compromised.
“There is a need for more SNAs in all schools,” Mr Moran told The Mayo News. “Part of it is due to Covid and more limited movements in schools but with more diagnosed needs in general and possibly more incidence of needs, there certainly is a shortfall there,” he said.
Breaffy NS have 430 children in 16 mainstream classes and an autism unit, occupational therapy room and sensory room just established this academic year. They have 28 teachers and seven SNAs.
However, only five full-time SNAs are paid. In a remarkable show of goodwill that exists in the community, two SNAs perform full-time duties on an entirely voluntary basis.
Those SNAs are Siobhán Horan and Noreen Moran while last year Monica McHale and Nicola Moran did likewise, the first year the school availed of such voluntary assistance.
Furthermore, they have SNAs such as Geraldine Lunn and Millie Carter who in the past were only paid for eight hours a week and worked the rest of the week for free because they saw that the pupils and classes needed such support.  
“It makes a huge difference to pupils and classes who badly need the support. We feel we don’t get enough SNA support from the Department [of Education] and we are so fortunate that people are willing to step in and volunteer in a full-time capacity. It would be very difficult without them. It is a great commitment for them to give,” he said.
“If a large commercial organisation sponsored this it would make national headlines and fanfare and rightly so but here we have parents giving unselfishly to support the needs of other pupils and classes,” he added.
All SNAs in the school are fully qualified for their positions and Mr Moran details the telling difference the volunteers make.
“The shortfall in SNAs creates another barrier to access education for pupils with additional education needs. We are blessed with super SNAs but like all schools we need more to alleviate the education disadvantage for pupils in our care.
“The volunteers’ contribution has had a significant impact on kids as the early intervention may obviate the need for supports down the line, we had had examples of this but, without the support of our volunteers, their needs may become greater,” he said.