UCD School of Education has established a national online training programme for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) who work in Irish schools. The programme is entitled Certificate in Inclusive School Support and is being delivered in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems. It is funded by the Department of Education. The first cohort of 460 students completed the programme in December 2021. On 25th February 2022, a hybrid Awards Ceremony was held in UCD O’Reilly Hall to present Certificates to the students. Approximately half the students attended the event accompanied by guests, while their counterparts joined online. The event was viewed by over 2,000 viewers from across the globe.
The Principal of the College of Social Sciences and Law, Associate Professor Niamh Moore Cherry, offered her warmest congratulations to students on their academic achievements in this the first iteration of our new and innovative programme. She communicated to the students how proud we are of their achievements, in completing the programme during very challenging times and at such high standards of achievement. The names of all successful students were called out and Associate Professor Niamh Moore Cherry presented Certificates individually to those in attendance.
Guest speakers then made contributions to help mark the occasion through recorded messages and in person speeches.
Ms Grace Harper was our first guest speaker delivering a recorded message to the ceremony’s attendees. Ms Harper shared her experience of SNA support throughout her own educational journey. Grace spoke so eloquently about how the support and kindness of her SNA helped her so positively with her educational experience.
Mr Andy Pike, National Secretary of Forsa trade union, delivered a recorded message to students noting that FORSA was very happy when UCD received the tender to deliver this very important programme. He commented on the very positive feedback on the progrramme from members and stated that this initiative contributes very positively to the perceived value of role of the SNA in the Irish educational system.
Mr John Kearney, incoming CEO, of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) congratulated each student on their outstanding success in completing the Certificate and in participating so wholeheartedly in the first iteration of this exciting new national programme. Mr Kearney recognised students’ commitments to their study, reflected in their time, effort and dedication to the course, as reflected in their engagement with tutors, their participation in online discussions and high quality of their assignments. He acknowledged the challenge balancing their stud with their work as SNA’s.
Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, was next to speak. Dr Muldoon took to the stage – going off script – asking the student to wave their hats in the air and got the whole auditorium to give a huge celebratory cheer! Dr Muldoon shared how honoured he was to be on the stage addressing the SNAs and noted the importance of the role of SNAs in supporting children with care needs to access the education system, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He referred to Article 29 of the Convention, which states that education is best directed to the talents, abilities and personalities of children and this is at the core of the role of the SNA.
Dr Muldoon finished by commending students’ decisions to upskill in their career by choosing to undertake the UCD School of Education Certificate in Inclusive School Support.
Ms Martina Mannion, Assistant Secretary General in the Department of Education with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion took to the stage as the final speaker on behalf of Minister of State for Inclusive Education, Josepha Madigan.
Ms Mannion complemented the students on their performance on this programme and passed on congratulations from Minister Madigan. Ms Mannion most importantly relayed to all students the importance of their work in schools, work that ensures children with special needs can attend school and perform to their potential.
Head of School of Education, Associate Professor Kinsella, closed the ceremony by thanking the guest speakers, noting that their attendance confirms the importance of the programme which in turn reflects the importance of the role of the SNA in the educational system. Associate Professor Kinsella noted that SNAs operate at the interface of healthcare and education and that is why it was critical to develop this programme in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare Systems.
Students followed the academic representatives out of the auditorium to continue the day of celebration, whether at UCD or at home.
On behalf of all of us here in UCD we congratulate our students once again on their amazing success, we are so proud of each and every one of you.