I propose to take Questions Nos. 177, 268 and 321 together.
I am aware of the challenges that are being encountered in the English language education sector and the substantial impact that the Covid-19 outbreak has had on students, teachers and providers in this sector.
My Department recognises the important role that teachers play in this sector and the support they have provided and continue to provide for students at this time. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, officials from my Department have had engagement with teacher representatives where they have outlined their concerns.
The English Language Education Working Group for this sector has been established with a remit to address the issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic with a priority and focus placed in the first instance on issues affecting students as well as other issues arising e.g. how stakeholders can work together to promote the sector as international markets move into recovery. The working group is comprised of key sectorial stakeholders including officials from my Department, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Enterprise Ireland, as well as lead sectorial representative bodies of providers and learner advocates.
The coordination of the response of the wider education system to the Covid-19 outbreak is a substantial challenge. In this context, the Department has found the current structure of the working group to be effective in delivering on its remit and, while the Department remains open to views, there are no current plans to expand membership. To date, the Group has facilitated an appropriate level of engagement with stakeholders alongside the ability to identify and help resolve issues as they arise. The Department and the members of the Working Group will continue to engage with external parties, to seek to exchange information where relevant and address queries where possible.
In respect of the safe re-opening of English language education providers, the timeline and arrangements for this will be guided by public health advice applicable at a given time. On May 1st, the Taoiseach announced the roadmap for the gradual lifting of the current Covid-19 restrictions. This roadmap sets out a number of phases with the re-opening of the wider education system contained in the later phases to coincide broadly with the beginning of the new academic year.
My Department will engage with provider representatives within the English language education sector as they develop more detailed plans for the re-opening of their premises on this basis. It is to be expected that ensuring the health and safety of staff and students will be central to the providers' plans and that necessary consultations will be undertaken as part of their development. It is anticipated that the "Return to Work Safely Protocol" recently published jointly by the Department of Health and the Department of Enterprise, Business & Innovation, and designed to support measures being put in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace will be used to inform these plans. Experience of the re-opening of educational facilities in other areas and jurisdictions will also be relevant.