The Government decision, taken on 6 January, on foot of public health advice, was to close schools for the vast majority of students for a period of three weeks, with certain exceptions. This decision was to support the overall public health objective to limit the movement of people in society while aiming to protect certain groups who would be more adversely impacted by school closure.
The Government’s decision included prioritising in-person teaching and learning for two specific cohorts; pupils/ students attending special schools and classes and final year Leaving Certificate students. This decision was supported by the public health advice available to Government.
There has been continuous engagement with education partners on this matter since Christmas, building on weekly engagements between partners and public health throughout the school year. The voice of students is represented in those ongoing engagements by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU). I spoke with the president of ISSU in December 2020 and I met with him on January 4th 2021. I spoke twice last week with the president of ISSU.
Despite the confirmation by Public Health that schools remain safe, unfortunately it was not proved possible to get agreement to provide in-person learning for these groups. In these circumstances there was no alternative but to pause the limited reopening on Monday 11th January and all pupils and students, including children with special needs, will be provided with a programme of remote learning.
Engagement with all stakeholders will set out a pathway for the return of all children at all levels of schooling at the start of February; subject of course to Government and public health consideration of what constitutes the safe movement of people at that point.