Army Barracks

Questions (276)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

276. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence if funding will be provided for the upgrade of former University Service Army Complement, USAC, block at Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, County Galway; when works will commence; and the estimated completion timeframe and estimated cost of such works. [2925/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the upgrade of the former USAC building is included in the Defence Forces Built Infrastructural Programme 2020-2025 at an estimated cost of €8m. The Deputy may wish to note that the project is now at an advanced stage of the procurement process and subject to the conclusion of same it is planned to commence works on the site in 2021.

Air Corps

Questions (277)

Denis Naughten

Question:

277. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Defence his plans to expand the role of the Air Corps air ambulance service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2960/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Air Corps provides a broad range of services in accordance with its primary security and defence role. It also undertakes a diverse range of non-security-related tasks on an ‘as available’ basis including the provision of air ambulance services to the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The HSE’s Aeromedical Desk in its National Emergency Operations Centre is responsible for the co-ordination of all health-related air transport arrangements. In addition to the Air Corps, the Irish Coast Guard and private air ambulance operators also provide air transport services for the HSE.

The Air Corps’ inter-hospital service operates out of Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. This service provides transport for patients and medical teams primarily between hospitals within Ireland and the UK. In 2020, the Air Corps completed a total of 48 inter-hospital missions, 33 of which were to the UK , including one priority transfer. 5 missions were outside of the agreed Service Level Agreement whereby the Air Corps provided the requested air transport of patients to or from mainland Europe.

The Air Corps also operates the Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS) Service. It is a daily, day-time service based out of Custume Barracks, Athlone. Since the commencement of this service in June 2012, the Air Corps has completed over 3,000 missions with 366 missions completed during 2020.

The EAS and inter-hospital services are good examples of the Air Corps and HSE combining their resources to deliver life-saving services for the people of Ireland. There are no plans to change the current operation of the aeromedical services based out of Baldonnel or Custume Barracks, Athlone.

Army Barracks

Questions (278)

Denis Naughten

Question:

278. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Defence his future plans for Custume Barracks, Athlone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2961/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Defence Forces Built Infrastructure Plan 2020-2025 provides a blueprint for investment in the Defence Forces built infrastructure over a five year timeframe and is designed to modernise and enhance the training, operational and accommodation facilities of the Defence Forces.

There are currently over €68m worth of projects underway at different stages of development. This level of expenditure will continue to increase and is projected that over the five years some €145m will be invested.

The commitment to the ongoing operation of Custume Barracks, Athlone, has been reaffirmed with the recent completion of the new Dining Hall complex. It was recognised that there was a need to refurbish and upgrade the Dining Hall for the purpose of providing a modern kitchen and dining facility to accommodate all ranks stationed at the Barracks. The main works contract, valued at €4.1m, was awarded in October 2018 and work was completed in 2020. The facility is now fully operational and the upgrade and refurbishment ensures the long-term viability of the complex at the Barracks.

The Built Infrastructure Plan recognises the need for the development of a permanent Emergency Aeromedical Support (EAS) hangar and associated helicopter facilities at Custume Barracks. The development of strategic infrastructure of this nature will be progressed further as the Plan is implemented.

Custume Barracks is and will continue to be an important operational military barracks. There are no plans to change this.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (279, 280, 288, 297, 299, 301, 312, 315, 320, 323, 324, 327)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

279. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education her plans to meet with persons (details supplied) as requested in order to find a way to prevent their children losing out on essential special education supports during the current level 5 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2187/21]

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Catherine Connolly

Question:

280. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education the analysis her Department has carried out into the feasibility of allowing special schools and classes to reopen during the current level 5 restrictions; the analysis her Department has carried out into the effects of the previous school closures on children with special education needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2188/21]

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Niamh Smyth

Question:

288. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education if she will review correspondence (details supplied); the actions her Department is taking in relation to the matter; the details of these practices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2254/21]

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Carol Nolan

Question:

297. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education the status of the supports being provided to special needs and DEIS schools following the decision to prohibit physical access to students from 11 January 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2362/21]

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Holly Cairns

Question:

299. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education the steps she is taking to ensure the safe return of special schools and classes as soon as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2393/21]

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Neasa Hourigan

Question:

301. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Education her plans to implement the summer programme previously known as July provision as a matter of urgency for children with disabilities in view of recent Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2432/21]

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Niamh Smyth

Question:

312. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education if she will review correspondence (details supplied); if she will respond to the concerns outlined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2540/21]

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Holly Cairns

Question:

315. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education when a primary school (details supplied), which has two autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes ready to reopen will be permitted to reopen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2679/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

320. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Education if she is prioritising school reopenings for students with additional educational needs in mainstream schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2788/21]

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Robert Troy

Question:

323. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education if consideration will be given to reopening special schools, given that children with special needs require a suite of options available to them to support their needs (details supplied). [2873/21]

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Robert Troy

Question:

324. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education if consideration will be given to reopening special schools, given that children with special needs require a suite of options available to them to support their needs (details supplied). [2874/21]

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Gary Gannon

Question:

327. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the provision that has been made to ensure that students with disabilities in mainstream and special schools can access online learning while schools are closed. [2936/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 279, 280, 288, 297, 299, 301, 312, 315, 320, 323, 324 and 327 together.

I am very disappointed that work to support children with complex needs at this difficult time has not been able to proceed. Over the past year, we have all seen how vital in-person education is for children with complex needs.

This matter has been highlighted not only by the families of the children themselves, but also by all the partners in education and representative groups, in regular meetings with me and my officials. Everyone recognises that distance learning does not work for every child.

Recent weeks have seen intense and regular engagement with partners to seek a solution to our shared objective to support children with complex needs return to in-school learning, could be reached.

My Department sought to agree an approach balancing the need to support our most vulnerable children while addressing the issues raised by trade unions and school management bodies.

These included requests for clear messaging around public health to be given directly to their members by Public Health specialists, temporary arrangements during the current phase of reopening for high risk staff and for those experiencing childcare difficulties.

In response my Department set out to the unions how it these concerns would be addressed. This included:

- Temporary flexible accommodations to work remotely or carry out duties where they are not in close contact or providing personal care

- Temporary waivers to notice periods around parental leave and unpaid leave schemes

- Speedy turnaround for applications through the National Childcare scheme with subsidies for full time childcare available

- A webinar to address public health concerns was held by the Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn and senior public health consultants which was directly accessible through online streaming to all education sector staff

Public Health Officials reaffirmed clearly that schools with risk mitigation measures in place provide a safe environment for staff and children.

While the general public heath advice is that people stay at home, this does not apply to workers providing an essential service like teachers and SNAs.

In this context it is considered that schools could reopen for just over 23,000 children with SEN (or just 4% of those who would attend during a full re-opening). These children are those who experience the greatest difficulty benefitting from remote learning.

Despite this there is still no commitment from the primary teacher and SNA trade unions, INTO and FORSA, to advise their members to commence the limited return of in-person learning for children with special educational needs.

I will continue to pursue every avenue to ensure that children with complex needs can return to in-person learning as immediately as possible and I will continue to engage with stakeholders on the issue.

In the interim I am confident that schools will continue to make significant efforts to provide effective remote learning experiences for these children.

My Department has issued updated guidance on continuity of schooling: supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs (with separate guidance for mainstream primary/special schools and for post-primary schools).

This outlines that teachers in special schools and special classes should make every effort to maintain regular contact with all of their pupils, and where appropriate, make provision for one-to-one online supports.

Extensive support and advice for schools regarding the provision of distance learning is also available through the Department’s support services and agencies including for those pupils with special educational needs.

School Funding

Questions (281)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

281. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education further to Parliamentary Question No. 428 of 1 December 2020, if a final decision has been made in relation to the emergency works appeal for a school (details supplied) following the unfortunate matter of being unable to decant to its new premises as expected in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2190/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I would like to inform the Deputy that the Department are in contact with the school on this matter and we have sought further information. On receipt of the requested information a final decision will be made on the application for the works in question.

State Examinations

Questions (282)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

282. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education if she will respond to concerns raised in correspondence (details supplied) about the junior cycle exams; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2192/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Planning for the 2021 state examinations is underway by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and my Department. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to Covid-19. This planning work is being assisted by an advisory group of key stakeholders which has recently been reconvened. I recognise the importance of listening to students, representatives of whom are on the Advisory Group. The advisory group also includes representatives of parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the SEC, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.

The advisory group met on a number of occasions before Christmas, with a further meeting planned this week. The advisory group will consider all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 state examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures.

My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic which led the decision not to run the state examinations last summer, and the more recent decision of 7 January 2021 to close schools for up to three weeks from 11 January. .

From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, are engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.

The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a Covid-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

Last August, I announced a series of changes that would be made to assessment arrangements for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021. This announcement was accompanied by a published document detailing these changes, Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, and forms part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School.

On Monday 21 December 2020, the Department published an updated version of the publication.

These changes to the national assessment arrangements were made with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, as these principles apply to assessment and examinations and refer to student to-student, subject-to-subject, and year-to-year comparisons over time. The changes provide reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools.

In addition, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has published the revised arrangements for Classroom-Based Assessments for students entering third year in 2020. Details are available at https://ncca.ie/en/junior-cycle/assessment-and-reporting/revised-arrangements-for-the-completion-of-classroom-based-assessments-cbas-for-the-cohort-of-students-2018-2021-current-second-years-entering-third-year-in-2020.

Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education and Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (283, 307, 325)

Robert Troy

Question:

283. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education her plans to address the unfairness and imbalance in relation to students who have missed so much school, have no access to proper broadband and are finding it difficult to settle into schooling through no fault of their own. [2195/21]

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Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

307. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education the guidance being given to parents by her Department to help them with home schooling during the pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2491/21]

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Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

325. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Education the contingency planning in place since the Covid-19 pandemic began for education provision in circumstances in which schools are closed; the scenarios used to plan for various situations affecting education provision during lockdown particularly regarding remote learning plans; the interaction her Department has had in developing remote learning plans; the level of communication her Department has had with boards of management; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2907/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 283, 307 and 325 together.

The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to facilitate the continuity of learning. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

This documentation has been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 (Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform) which requires all schools to have in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice.

As part of the guidance, schools were advised to research various digital platforms for facilitating communication between teachers and pupils and supporting pupils learning remotely. Schools should use the most appropriate whole-school approach for their context. In some schools, the use of digital communication platforms may not be appropriate or possible for some pupils.

It is crucially important that the learning of all pupils/students are supported at this time. Teachers should continue to engage with their pupils/students and differentiate teaching and learning in line with their pupils’/students’ needs to minimise disruption to their learning and progression.

It is acknowledged that this is a challenging time for pupils, teachers, other school staff and parents, and a strong focus should be kept on wellbeing and self-care during this time. Resources to support the wellbeing of school communities when schools are closed have been revised by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) of the Department and include a guide for parents on supporting children and young people with daily routines while schools are closed, advice on how to calm and support your child and advice on managing stress and anxiety. These resources can be accessed on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

School Transport

Questions (284)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

284. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education further to Parliamentary Question No. 402 of 17 December 2020, the status of the implementation of the public health recommendation that post-primary school transport services operate using 50% of passenger capacity; the analysis her Department has carried out into the cost of extending the 50% capacity model to the primary school transport scheme; the analysis her Department has carried out into the cost of extending the 50% capacity model to all children with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2197/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

The Department has been engaging intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year. Based on the public health advice published in July 2020, and the updated advice received from the HPSC on 7th August and from NPHET on the 18th August 2020, the Department has been planning for School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place and with the rolling implementation of measures on post-primary services as required to provide physical distancing, using 50% of passenger capacity.

Government has agreed to provide the necessary funding to ensure that full implementation of the public health recommendation of running buses for post-primary children is achieved as quickly as possible on the post-primary scheme and on the special educational needs scheme for post-primary children. The implementation of 50% capacity has been put in place where possible over the last number of months while Bus Éireann is continuing to put in place the additional services required to fully implement the advice on all routes. Before Christmas circa 74% of total post-primary routes were operating at 50% capacity, comprising 70% of SEN post-primary and 76.5% of mainstream post-primary, and planning is underway for all remaining routes to be implemented at 50% capacity in the coming weeks; this will be progressed as schools re-open.

Bus Éireann and the Department of Education have supported all bus contractors to put in place measures to support infection prevention and control on the buses. The Department has also issued detailed information and guidance to parents and children on the operation of school transport services for the 2020/2021 school year. Measures include all post-primary students wearing masks, all bus drivers and bus escorts receiving PPE where necessary, as well as funding to support additional cleaning and hygiene measures, including the provision of sanitiser on all buses. Seating plans with pre-assigned seating are in place on all routes, with children sitting next to their siblings or classmates where possible. This reduces the interaction of children on the buses with those outside of their family, class or school.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (285)

Paul Murphy

Question:

285. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education the status of boarding schools, given the general closure of schools announced until the end of January 2021 as a consequence of the pandemic. [2221/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government decision, taken on 6 January, on foot of public health advice to reduce mobility in the community, was to close schools for the vast majority of students for a period of three weeks.

Schools have been advised of the need to ensure appropriate education provision and support for students during this time. All schools have been advised of the need to have contingency plans for remote learning and have been provided with guidance on best practice.

While teaching and learning in boarding schools is delivered remotely similar to all other schools, the residential component of boarding schools are private concerns and are not a matter for my Department.

School Accommodation

Questions (286)

Marian Harkin

Question:

286. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Education the status of an application for additional school accommodation by a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2244/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I can confirm to the Deputy, that my Department has received an application for capital funding, under the Additional School Accommodation Scheme, from the school in question.

Officials from my Department have been communicating with the school authority and as a result the application is now progressing. On completion of the assessment process a decision will be relayed, directly, to the school authority shortly.

Public Sector Pay

Question No. 288 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (287)

Niall Collins

Question:

287. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Education the assistance which can be provided to a person (details supplied) with a query regarding incremental progression; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2251/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The criteria for the award of Incremental Credit, for previous teaching experience, to recognised post-primary teachers is outlined in Circular 29/2007 and 10/2001 for primary teachers, and was agreed in the first instance, by the Teacher Conciliation Council (TCC). This Council is comprised of representatives of the teacher unions, school management bodies, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Department of Education chaired by an official of the Workplace Relations Commission. Circular 29/2007 is the relevant incremental credit circular relating to an application for relevant non-teaching (RNT) service.

An application for RNT incremental credit must be fully completed. Such an application may be deemed eligible for approval when all the criteria have been met under circular 29/2007. These criteria include, for example, being a fully qualified teacher registered with the Teaching Council of Ireland. A teacher must be registered in the sector they are working in and must be currently working in a recognised school.

To date applications for RNT incremental credit in respect of previous service in the Construction Industry, have been awarded when the service is deemed relevant to the first teaching post the teacher is appointed to, the incremental credit application process has been fully complied with and all eligibility criteria have been met.

Question No. 288 answered with Question No. 279.

DEIS Scheme

Questions (289, 290)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

289. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education her plans to make additional funding available to cover postage costs for DEIS schools to post educational materials to their students to assist them in studying from home during the current school closures in view of the fact that a departmental report found that children in DEIS schools were the group who engaged least online; the details of analysis carried out by her Department into the cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2258/21]

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Catherine Connolly

Question:

290. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education the engagement she has had with the Minister for the Environment, Climate Action and Communications with regard to providing free postage to DEIS schools to allow them to send educational materials and packages to their students during the current school closures due to Covid-19 restrictions particularly in view of the fact that a departmental report found that children in DEIS schools were the group who engaged the least online; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2260/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 289 and 290 together.

Since last March, my Department has put in place a number of measures to support vulnerable learners and those at risk of educational disadvantage during possible partial or full school closures due to Covid-19.

As a contingency measure for the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department provided to schools in October a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all learners in a Covid-19 context. These documents have been complemented by Circular 0074/2020 which required all schools to put in place appropriate contingency measures to ensure that they are prepared to continue to support teaching and learning in the event of a partial or full closure of schools arising from Public Health advice. My Department has also provided updated specific guidance to advise on how schools and teachers can support continuity in the learning of vulnerable students and those at risk if educational disadvantage during school closures due to Covid-19.

Schools are asked to be conscious of students who may not have access to online facilities or technology and to adapt approaches to ensure that these pupils’ ability to participate in learning is not compromised. Many schools have already introduced a range of strategies and measures to ensure that the needs of these pupils are catered for, including pupils who have limited access to technology or whose parents are not in a position to support their learning. The guidance sets out approaches that schools can take and my Department will be asking schools to ensure that there is a specific focus on ensure that these pupils are supported.

My Department has provided significant additional resources to schools to help support the provision of ICT equipment and to prioritise the needs of students that do not otherwise have access to ICT. My Department issued €50m in April 2020 in Digital Strategy ICT grant funding in respect of the 2019-2020 school year, including €10m brought forward. A further €50m issued in December 2020 in respect of the 2020-2021 school year. Schools were advised to use this funding to support the continuity of teaching and learning should a period of partial or full school closure owing to Covid-19 restrictions be required.

Tusla Education Support Services will engage with principals to promote connectedness to schools for children who are at risk of educational disadvantage and there will be direct liaison by education welfare officers to Direct Provision accommodation centres, refuges for families experiencing domestic violence and homeless hubs to ensure students are linked with their schools.

My Department spends in the region of €125 million annually to provide a suite of supports to schools in the DEIS programme, of which €16.2 million was allocated to schools in the form of a DEIS grant for the 2020/21 school year.

Schools in the DEIS programme are asked to use all available supports, both in-school and community-based, to promote a positive solution-oriented approach that will support all pupils to achieve, to learn and to progress in their education and to help minimize any further educational inequality among those at risk of educational disadvantage.