Special Needs Assistants in Primary Schools: An investigation of the role, function, and expectations of this post in Ireland
Date of Award
Master of Arts (Research)
Sport, Leisure & Childhood Studies
Dr Vanessa Murphy
Dr Frances Clerkin
This study aims to examine the role and function of the Special Needs Assistant (SNA) in Irish Primary Schools. The minimum requirement for a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) is three grade Ds in the Junior Certificate or an equivalent qualification. Existing research suggests that the role lacks clarity and has evolved to include taking on administrative, pedagogical, behavioral management, and therapeutic roles (INTO, 2017; Butler and Quinn, 2014; NCSE, 2011). This study explores the disparity between the SNA job descriptor to recognise the impact and importance of the SNA’s role in the education system. This study is underpinned by the Bio-Ecological Systems theory (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2007) which considers the child as a construct of their immediate surroundings and the larger beliefs of the society in which they reside, which in this study, encompass education, teachers and SNAs (Guy-Evans, 2020). Across the Republic of Ireland, 595 respondents contributed via survey to this study, including 388 SNAs and 207 Primary School teachers. Notably, while the literature identified that the role of the SNA is specifically a non-teaching job, the SNA survey responses identified that 58% of SNAs supervise the whole class if the teacher is out (even for short periods). The results indicate that 17% of SNAs ‘teach’ whole classes if the teacher is absent (even for short periods). In addition, 93% of SNA’s reported assisting pupils with classwork set by the teacher, and close to a fifth [19%] corrected or graded classwork. 56% reported that they supported teachers in preparing Individual Education Plans (IEP) for pupils, with a further 6% stating their involvement in developing IEPs independently. Nearly half asserted that they do therapeutic interventions for pupils and support the work of professionals in Speech and Language or Occupational Therapy [44% and 49% respectively]. Interestingly, only 0.5% of SNAs held the minimum qualification with 33% holding a Level 6 award. In addition, another 33% were qualified to Level 7 ordinary degree or higher [33%]; in fact, 47 hold an honors’ degree [12%], and 27 have a master’s degree [7%]. With such levels of over-qualification, it is not surprising that a resounding 92% want a career progression route. This study indicates that the role/duties of the SNA has evolved way beyond the prescribed circular role, with SNAs taking on roles beyond the scope of their duties. Also, it appears that many SNAs hold higher qualifications than the minimum requirements, however they are not qualified to work as teachers, but many are expected to do so. This essentially means that children are being taught (even for short periods of time) by personnel who are not qualified to do so. To remedy some of these challenges, this study recommends that SNA role should be reviewed and expanded if possible. Also, this study further recommends a change in the minimum qualification for employment as an SNA to include a standardised SNA training programme, along with a suite of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses to ensure that the SNA has the essential knowledge and skills to work as an SNA. It is also recommended that an adaptable career progression path be designed explicitly for SNAs, leading to a professionalisation of the SNA workforce
Essien, Imaobong Maria, "Special Needs Assistants in Primary Schools: An investigation of the role, function, and expectations of this post in Ireland" (2022). Theses [online].
Available at: https://sword.cit.ie/allthe/509
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