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Special Needs Assistants


Special Needs Assistants (SNA) are recruited specifically to assist in the care of pupils with disabilities in an educational context. They may be appointed to a special school or a mainstream national school to assist school authorities in making suitable provision for a pupil or pupils with special care needs arising from a disability. The allocation of special needs assistant support may be made on a full or part-time basis (e.g. an hour or more per day), and may be shared by named pupils for whom such support has been allocated.

Duties of Special Needs Assistants

The duties of SNAs are available in Appendix 1 of Circular DES Sp. Ed 07/02. Schools should note that the duties of special needs assistants sanctioned by the Department are of a non-teaching nature. Individual pupils with a general learning disability would not typically require the services of a special needs assistant. Schools with pupils who have special care needs arising from a disability and who also require additional academic input should consider applying for additional resource teaching provision.

In accordance with Circular 16/76: Duties and responsibilities of Principal Teachers the duties of SNAs are assigned by the principal teacher and sanctioned by the board of management. Their work should be supervised either by the principal or by a class teacher.

Those duties involve tasks of a non-teaching nature such as:

  • Preparation and tidying up of classroom(s) in which the pupil(s) with special needs is/are being taught.
  • Assisting children to board and alight from school buses. Where necessary travel as escort on school buses may be required.
  • Special assistance as necessary for pupils with particular difficulties e.g. helping physically disabled pupils with typing or writing.
  • Assistance with clothing, feeding, toileting and general hygiene.
  • Assisting on out-of-school visits, walks and similar activities.
  • Assisting the teachers in the supervision of pupils with special needs during assembly, recreational and dispersal periods.
  • Accompanying individuals or small groups who may have to be withdrawn temporarily from the classroom.
  • General assistance to the class teachers, under the direction of the principal, with duties of a non-teaching nature. (special needs assistants may not act either as substitute or temporary teachers. In no circumstances may they be left in sole charge of a class).
  • Where a special needs assistant has been appointed to assist a school in catering for a specific pupil, duties should be modified to support the particular needs of the pupil concerned.


Applications for a SNA should be considered where, for example, a pupil has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or to other pupils. Pupils' needs could range from needing an assistant for a short period each week, for example to help feed or change the pupil(s) or bring them to the toilet, to requiring a full-time assistant.

Processing of Applications

As per Circular 0006/2011, which came into effect January 2011, a cap has been placed on the number whole time equivalent Special Needs Assistant posts in school. This number is 10,575 whole time equivalent posts.

Since January 2005 the NCSE, through the local SENO, is processing resource applications for children with disabilities who have special educational needs. In doing so the NCSE is required to observe Departmental policy.

The following functions are the responsibility of the NCSE with effect from 1 January 2005:

  1. processing applications for resource teacher support in respect of children with low incidence disabilities and deciding on the level of support appropriate to the school;
  2. processing applications for special needs assistant support for children with disabilities and deciding on the level of support appropriate to the school;
  3. examing applications for special equipment/assistive technology;
  4. identifying appropriate educational settings for individual children with special needs.

Applications in relation to any of the above should be submitted to the local SENO. In relation to 1 and 2 above, following consideration of the application, including consultations with schools and parents/guardians.

Appointment of SNAs

The board of management, as employer, has responsibility for the recruitment and employment of all SNAs.

  • The recruitment and appointment process must be carried out in accordance with procedures set out in the relevant Department of Education SNA Circulars.
  • With effect from 1st September 2011, (DES Circular 0021/2011) the minimum required standard of education for appointment to the post of Special Needs Assistant is:-
    • A FETAC level 3 major qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications, OR
    • A minimum of three grade Ds in the Junior Certificate, OR
    • Equivalent.
  • When the appointment process has been completed, the board of management should complete the Appointment Form, Special Needs Assistant and forward it to Non Teaching Staff (NTS) Payroll, Department of Education & Skills, Cornamaddy, Athlone, Co. Westmeath as soon as possible after the SNA has been appointed.
  • The relevant DES Circulars and Notices relating to SNAs are located in the Special Needs Assistants Section on the DES website.
  • The payment of substitute Special Needs Assistants is handled by the school through the OLCS (On line Claims System).

Last Updated: March 2013