Below are replies by the Minister for Education and Skills to Parliamentary Questions I tabled in Dáil Éireann regarding supports for the reopening of schools, both primary and secondary.
I welcome “Reopening Our Schools, The Roadmap for the Full Return to School”. This Programme includes a wide range of supports for schools for the considerable challenges that lie ahead for school communities in ensuring a safe return to schools for students and staff.
For Written Answer on : 30/07/2020
Question Number(s): 738 Question Reference(s): 20935/20
Department: Education and Skills
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
* To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the supports that will be put in place to enable primary and second-level schools to reopen at the end of August 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Brendan Smith T.D.
For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 30 July, 2020.
On Monday, the 27th July, my Department published the report to Government “Reopening Our Schools, The Roadmap for the Full Return to School”.
This Roadmap set outs how schools will reopen for all students from the end of August and what the operation of our schools will look like and be sustainable in a COVID-19 context. It has been developed in line with public health advice issued by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), the Roadmap for Society and Business, and follows comprehensive and intensive engagement with education stakeholders including the school management bodies and staff representatives.
My Department is also providing capital and current funding of an additional €377 million to support the safe and sustainable reopening of schools under the Roadmap.
This funding includes €52 million for schools to put in place enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. Enhanced grants are being made available for cleaning to schools with special classes and special schools.
Funding of approx. €84.7 million so that schools can employ replacement teaching staff, SNA and administrative staff. There will be additional funding of €41.2 million, for substitution in primary schools. This will provide more certainty on the availability of substitutes for primary schools and cover substitutions that are not covered by existing schemes. The Supply Panel Scheme will be expanded nationwide and I am allocating 200 posts to provide substitute cover through these panels. The purpose of supply panels is to support schools to manage the sick leave and other absences by having a supply of teachers to meet substitution needs when required. Schools will continue to be able to access substitute teachers through the normal process, particularly if they are not connected to a supply panel.
Other funding measures for primary schools include release days for teaching principals which equates to one release day per week and release time for deputy principals in primary schools with an admin principal.
There is also funding of €40m for enhanced supervision for post primary schools to minimise the interaction of students from different classes, in line with public health advice. An additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level at a cost of €53 million will be provided to support the important work of teaching and learning and provide additional teachers needed to support teacher substitution, management of physical distancing requirements by reallocating class timetables in schools to smaller groups class sizes where necessary.
Funding of €4.2 million will also be made available to enable schools to employ an aide to assist with implementing logistical changes. €3.8m is being made available to ensure that schools have lead worker representatives, whose role is to support the school to limit the risk of COVID-19 infections.
I also recognise that the full implementation of the COVID-19 Response Plans for Schools, and the Public Health Advice, may require some reconfiguration works within schools. To support this work, a once off enhanced minor works grant will paid to all primary schools by mid-August. There is a one off €75 million capital allocation to support schools to prepare their buildings and classrooms for reopening including an uplift for schools with SEN pupils.
In providing funding to schools in this way, schools will have the necessary flexibility to implement necessary physical measures in their school quickly in compliance with the Public Health Advice and the Roadmap.
For Written Answer on : 29/07/2020
Question Number(s): 198 Question Reference(s): 19506/20
Department: Education and Skills
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will ensure that adequate supports are put in place for children with special needs to enable them to return to school when schools reopen; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
My Department has now published its roadmap to the Full Reopening of schools ‘COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable reopening of Primary and Special Schools.’
This roadmap sets outs how schools will reopen for all students, including students with special educational needs, from the end of August
It provides details of a range of Additional Supports which will be made available to schools to implement their Covid-19 Response Plan and to operate in a sustainable way.
The roadmap also notes that the Department is also making additional provision for special schools and special classes, in recognition of the particular challenges that these schools and classes will face dealing with children with complex medical and care needs.
Full details of the supports for the reopening of schools is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/b264b-roadmap-for-the-full-return-to-school/
The Roadmap provides details of a range of Additional Supports which will be made available to schools to implement their Covid-19 Response Plan and to operate in a sustainable way.
These supports include:
- An enhanced Minor Works Grant to support full implementation of COVID-19 response plans
- Employing an aide to help with the school re-opening logistics;
- Additional financial supports to provide for additional cleaning, hand hygiene and PPE costs under the COVID-19 response plans.
- Increased management support to primary schools;
- Extending the current pilot supply panel for substitute teachers on a nationwide basis; at primary school level
- 1,080 additional teaching posts at post primary school level including 120 guidance posts;
- Enhanced supervision supports for post primary schools
All of these measures will support the return of children with special educational needs to schools in August.
However, the Department is also making additional provision for special schools and special classes, in recognition of the particular challenges that these schools and classes will face dealing with children with complex medical and care needs.
Additional NEPS psychologists will be appointed to provide enhanced services to support the wellbeing of our school communities at this time, with a particular emphasis on the wellbeing of our special school communities.
Special schools will receive funding equivalent to 10 days, for the purposes of employing an aide to assist with the logistics for preparing for reopening.
The Minor Works Grant at Primary and Post Primary level include enhanced rates in respect of students in special classes and schools. This will facilitate preparatory works to be completed in schools to facilitate reopening such as refurbishment of toilets and reconfiguration of school spaces.
The additional per capita funding being provided for pupils in special schools and special classes recognises the additional needs that these pupils have and the additional measures that schools may be required to take to support them.
Special schools and schools with special classes where there is a teaching principal will receive one release day per week. Those schools with admin Deputy Principals will be provided with 16 release days.
The Department is also supporting the replacement of all absences of SNAs in school settings.
Enhanced COVID-19 rates are payable in respect of students attending special schools and special classes attached to mainstream schools to assist with the extra costs associated with the cleaning of classrooms with a small number of students, operating specialist provision.
The COVID-19 capitation grant will also be the mechanism through which additional funding will be provided to cater for costs related to hand hygiene measures and PPE requirements under the COVID-19 Response Plan. Additional provision for this purpose will be confirmed with the establishment of the drawdown framework of suppliers
For the Special Education Transport Service, funding supports will be made available to schools for the provision of masks or visors to School Bus Escorts where required, bearing in mind the SEN needs of the child/children on the service, and where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
It is also recognized that pupils with SEN will require particular support at the time of transition back to school including supporting their well-being, reducing potential anxiety and planning learning experiences that take account of the effect of school closures on their progress.
Approximately 15,000 pupils with SEN will have availed of the Department supported summer provision and all records of progress for these children, whether the programmes were delivered in school or home settings will be available to their schools to support planning for their needs in the new term.
Finally it is recognised that some children who have complex medical or special educational needs may not be able to return to school at the end of August because the relevant public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.
These students’ schools will provide additional supports for these students through designated teachers from within the staffing resources of the school
Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of their pupils/students, including pupils/students at ‘very high risk’ to COVID-19.
During the period of school closures the Department provided schools in the primary and special school sector and at post-primary level with a series of “Continuity of Schooling Guidance” documents to help education professionals and parents to support children learning in a remote environment. The events surrounding COVID-19 and the public health restrictions which resulted in the emergency closure of schools to learners has highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in how they can provide for continuity of teaching and learning in the future.
The continuity of teaching and learning during the emergency period was achieved with significant additional effort from all school staff working remotely to ensure students were supported during this time. Most schools put in place arrangements to communicate with students and parents demonstrating innovation and resilience by providing flexible local responses.
The Department is updating its Continuity of Schooling Guidance documents to support schools in responding in an agile way in the event of localised school closure or to continue to support pupils with medical or special educational needs who cannot attend school
Guidance will also provide for additional strategies to support children with ASD where it is likely that the impact of school closures will have been significant so that learning experiences, routines and sensory needs should be carefully planned.
The return to school package includes enhanced allocations to support children, including children with special educational needs, to be able to return safely for the forthcoming school year.