I thank the committee for its invitation to the Minister of State and I to be here today. As the Chair has outlined, I will share my time with the Minister of State. We are joined by a number of departmental officials. With me in Kildare House are Mr. Dalton Tattan, Ms Aoife Conduit, Ms Yvonne Keating, Ms Anne Tansey and Mr. Neville Kenny while, remotely, Ms Deirdre Shanley, Ms Martina Mannion and Mr. Hubert Loftus are joining us from Athlone and Tullamore .
The committee in its invitation has set out an ambitious list of topics to discuss today, many of which have seen considerable developments in recent weeks. These include the return of students to in-person learning as well as arrangements for the State examinations in 2021. As Deputies and Senators know, yesterday saw the return of approximately 320,000 students to their classrooms, 60,000 of whom are the leaving certificate class of 2021, and approximately 260,000 in the first four years of primary school. This was a hugely positive day for many students, their families and school staff and one which has been much anticipated. Importantly, yesterday also saw special schools return to full in-class provision having operated on the basis of 50% attendance since 11 February. In addition, special classes at primary and post-primary level have been operating at full capacity since 22 February.
Over the next number of weeks, we hope to see even more students return to school, including 260,000 primary school students in the more senior classes on 15 March together with fifth year students at post-primary level. Subject to continued progress in maintaining reduced community transmission levels, the remaining post-primary students will return to school on 12 April following the traditional Easter break.
We have made progress over recent weeks in returning to classrooms. The phased approach, which has been building on the earlier phases when special schools and special classes reopened, has been possible with the progress made across communities in bringing the community transmission levels of Covid-19 down. We certainly need to maintain our efforts to contain the virus and I welcome the deputy chief medical officer, CMO's, advice to school communities and, more generally, that we must maintain our vigilance so that we can get all of our students back to in-school person provision.
Yesterday saw the return of the leaving certificate year students to their classrooms. They return with the clarity and choice that the recent Government decision on the approach to be taken to their leaving certificate examination provided. The work undertaken by the members of the advisory group on the State examinations in the lead-up to the Government decision was very beneficial in ensuring all voices could be heard and could input into the deliberations. The work in ensuring that students can choose to sit an examination, or avail of an accredited grade, continues intensively within my Department and the State Examinations Commission, SEC, and will involve continued engagement with the education partners.
Deputies and Senators will be aware that a document entitled, A Guide to State Examinations and Accredited Grades for Leaving Certificate 2021, was issued by my Department last week and it provides a useful outline to students, their families and schools as to how the examination process and the accredited grades process will work. There will be significant further information and guidance issued to students and schools over the coming weeks.
There are differences to the arrangements in 2021 when compared to last year. A full suite of examinations operated by the SEC will be run, starting with the oral and practical components in the coming weeks, subject to prevailing public health advice. The examinations will take place in line with their traditional June timetable and that timetable has been published. In addition, the accredited grades system this year will be ultimately completed by the SEC with my Department carrying out the preliminary stages of the work pending necessary legislative amendments. I intend to bring proposals for relevant legislative amendments to Cabinet shortly and to seek to have the relevant provisions drafted as a priority. I will also seek the assistance of this committee in ensuring the relevant Bill can progress through the required legislative Stages as expeditiously as possible.
Across both Houses, I am sure we are united in the view that we want to see our leaving certificate class of 2021 progress to the next stage of their lives in as normal a fashion as possible, acknowledging the challenges that they and the education system as a whole have faced.
The third principal area that the committee had highlighted for discussion today was in its report, The Impact of Covid-19 on Primary and Secondary Education. I have read the report, including its recommendations, and to highlight the pace at which events have unfolded since the report was published in January, many of the recommendations in regard to the reopening of schools or the leaving certificate have been, or are being, addressed. We are also making progress in the other areas which the report focussed on and I am happy to provide any updates on the recommendations committee members may wish to discuss as we work through the session.
Finally, I acknowledge the work undertaken across school communities in recent weeks and particularly in the lead-up to yesterday in ensuring many students are now back in their classrooms with their teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and support staff. I look forward to seeing all students back in their classrooms over the coming weeks. I invite the Minister of State to address the committee.