It remains my Department’s key objective for schools to remain open and to continue to operate as normal as possible with due regard to public health advices. There are however certain circumstances when remote teaching and learning will be necessary over the coming weeks and months.
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 prepared to continue to support their students and be able to provide for continuity of teaching and learning in the event of any further public health measures that require any closures of schools or individual classes. Given the autonomy of schools in the delivery of the curriculum to their learners, schools and teachers are best placed to plan the mediation of the curriculum in the unusual circumstances that present themselves this year.
Guidance already issued by my Department provides advice to assist schools in planning for a contingency situation where there may be a need to ensure that teaching and learning can be delivered remotely for pupils who cannot attend school for health reasons related to Covid-19, for situations where a school may be faced with closure for a period due to public health advice and/or for supporting pupils at “very high risk” to COVID-19. My Department worked closely with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the State Examinations Commission (SEC) in the preparation of the advice.
The guidance includes links to a range of materials and supports developed by the Digital Technologies team of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (a Department support service for teachers) such as learning platforms and online tools which can be used to support remote/distance teaching and learning. Those resources continue to be available to schools.
In order to further support remote teaching and learning my Department has also issued ICT grant funding to schools which, in the context of the current public health crisis, can be used to address ICT needs including digital devices, communication/learning platforms, software and other ICT solutions to support the provision of remote learning. Additional grant aid will issue during the current school year subject to the availability of exchequer funding.
To further support schools new guidelines will be published by my Department.The guidelines are designed to provide further guidance for schools to provide remote teaching and learning in situations as set out above and to individual students who may have to self-isolate or restrict their movements.
It builds on the Continuity of Schooling guidance documents provided by the Department to post-primary schools during the Covid-19 crisis. Details of online resources, provided by my Department’s support services, are set out along with how these resources will support schools in providing remote teaching and learning. The documents should be read in conjunction with the Department’s previous guidance to schools in relation supporting continuity of pupils’ learning during the March to June 2020 school closure period, available at: www.gov.ie.
Communication and effective engagement are important elements in the remote learning environment. In this regard, and building on work already done by schools, my Department is also in the process of drafting a circular that will support schools to put in place appropriate arrangements to facilitate engagement and communication with and between staff, between staff and learners and with the wider school community including parents. The supports set out in the circular will also facilitate schools in the development of online approaches to remote and blended learning that will help limit the impact of any future closures. Consultation with stakeholders to inform the final draft of this circular is underway at present.