A school Principal in Fourmilehouse is this week appealing for an extension to the criteria for the appointment of special needs assistants in primary schools. Madeline O’Connor is the Principal at Scoil Bhríde in Fourmilehouse and in recent weeks she has been lobbying local politicians, election candidates and the Minister for Education with a view to getting the criteria for the appointment of Special Needs Assistants changed to take into account the educational needs of the children. ‘Children with special needs are only entitled to Special Needs Assistants if they have care needs or are a danger to themselves or others. In previous years it was easier to fill the criteria, but the Department is getting stricter. We now have children with special needs and if they’re quiet and well behaved, they will get no extra support.’ Last year, Madeline had 29 pupils in her classroom, five of whom had special needs. ‘Sometimes children with special needs are doing work different from everyone else in the class. It is practically impossible in a class of 20 to keep the children doing something different ‘We have been lobbying politicians to broaden the criteria for the application and retention of Special Needs Assistants to include the educational needs of the children. ‘Special Needs Assistants are not teachers, but we can devise a programme for the children and the SNAs can help with that. A school pupil could have quite severe dyslexia and have grave difficulty in reading and writing and he or she has no support because they don’t have any care needs. ‘Other pupils could be reading history, geography, English or Irish books and these pupils would do better if they had another adult with them helping them. It is not always feasible in a class of 25 to give children the individual attention they deserve. With the new curriculum, it’s all hands on, in terms of science experiments, music and other subjects. For a child that can’t read instructions or maths questions, life is very difficult. ‘We have three SNAs in our school, with 92 pupils. There are ten assessments which show children with special needs and other children that need extra support. Pupils get extra help from learning support teachers and resource teachers, but the maximum that they will have is one hour per day and most have half an hour per day and the rest of the time they’re in class. We want what’s best for the children. We have eight years experience with children with special needs. We have great experience of what the children need and the best way to help them. We have lobbied local politicians, including general election candidates on the matter and have also written to the Minister for Education about this matter,’ concluded Ms. O’Connor.