Special Educational Needs

Questions (291)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

291. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Education the status of the appointment of a home-based teacher to meet the special educational needs of a person (details supplied). [2269/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

My Department provides for the education of children through the provision of recognised schools. Recognised schools must fulfil a number of conditions regarding qualified and registration of teachers, curriculum, inspection and other matters.

The Irish constitution recognises the family as the primary educator of the child and defines duties and responsibilities for parents and the State in the education of children.

Section 14 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 makes provision for parents to educate their children in places other than recognised schools, such as in the home or in non-recognised schools.

Children who are educated at home or who attend a non-recognised schools must be registered with TUSLA Education Support Service (TESS) by their parents/guardians.

Parents must ensure their child receives a certain minimum education. There are detailed Guidelines on the Assessment of Education in places other than recognised schools. The guidelines provide a working definition of “a certain minimum education”. They describe home-based education and offer guidance on how it may be assessed. They also cover the legal background of home education.

As this query relates to an individual child I have forwarded it to TUSLA Education Support Service (TESS) for direct reply.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (292)

Bríd Smith

Question:

292. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Education the supports or grants available to primary and secondary school students or their parents to purchase laptops to help with home schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2274/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As part of the €210m investment programme underpinning the implementation of the Digital Strategy for Schools, my Department provided €100m in grant funding to schools to address their ICT needs during 2020. Schools were advised that they can use this funding to support the continuity of teaching and learning should a period of partial or full school closure occur arising from Public Health advice owing to Covid-19 restrictions as is the current situation.

This ICT Grant funding issues to schools, as schools are best placed to identify the requirements of their own student cohort and to meet those requirements. In the context of the current public health crisis this funding can be focussed on assisting schools to address ICT needs including devices, software and other ICT solutions to support the provision of remote learning. This can include the purchase of ICT devices including laptops, that can be shared with students who do not have access to devices, essential learning platforms and other ICT infrastructure to support the provision of remote learning.

The continuity of learning guidance circulated to schools last year advised Principals of the responsibility to ensure that learners receive appropriate support to engage adequately with learning remains with the school in which they are enrolled. Regular and ongoing communication between school and home will be essential to support engagement with learning and continuous connection with classmates and school community. Additional supports will be provided for these learners from within the staffing resources of the school. Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of their pupils and students.

Resources to support schools and teachers to the transition to distance learning using technology, including blended learning approaches, are being provided by the Department support service, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), at https://www.pdst.ie/DistanceLearning.

State Examinations

Questions (293)

Matt Carthy

Question:

293. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Education when those students who chose to sit leaving certificate 2020 written examinations will receive their results; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2312/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

State Examinations

Questions (294)

Joe O'Brien

Question:

294. Deputy Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Education her plans in relation to the operation of the junior certificate 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2321/21]

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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.

Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (295)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

295. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Education the position regarding the securing of a site at a school (details supplied) and existing extension plans; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2333/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The project to which the Deputy refers has been devolved to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) for delivery as part of a programme of school building projects.

The NDFA is currently undertaking the second phase of the process of appointment of multi-disciplinary technical advisors (design teams) for these projects. Thereafter, it will ensure that the project progresses to design stage, obtains the necessary statutory planning permission, and moves the project onward to tender and construction in due course.

The acquisition of the site adjacent to the school is at a very advanced stage of conveyancing. Once all contractual matters have been finalised the site will be assessed for Architectural Planning. Given the commercial sensitivities associated with land acquisitions generally, I am not in a position to comment further at this time.

As the project is at an early stage in the delivery process, it is not possible at this time to give a date for its completion.

Please be assured that the NDFA is engaging directly with the school authority to keep it informed of progress.

School Admissions

Question No. 297 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (296)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

296. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Education if she will consider meeting with the new Archbishop of Dublin regarding changes made to the sibling first school admissions policy by the school patron and the effects this is having on school admissions in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2334/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

In relation to school admissions, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Acts 1998 to 2018. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in that area.

Under the provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 all schools have drafted new policies for publication on the school’s website. These new admission policies have been approved by respective Patrons following consultation with school staff and parents of children attending the school, and are now published on individual school websites. These policies will apply for admission to school from September 2021 onwards.

Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process will be necessary. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

The act requires schools to clearly set out their selection criteria in their admission policies. Schools have discretion in relation to their admission criteria and how they are applied. The criteria to be applied by schools and the order of priority are a matter for the schools themselves. My Department does not seek to intervene in the selection criterion that is applied by schools.

Patrons of schools including the Archdiocese of Dublin are not required to consult or seek approval form the Department of Education in relation to their selection criteria, however the Archdiocese of Dublin has advised my Department that after a lot of consideration and consultation with the schools, the Diocese has maintained the position that siblings, step-siblings and/or children of the parish should remain in the first priority as they believe it is fair, transparent and inclusive way of allocating places in all primary schools under the patronage of the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Schools and their Patrons have discretion in relation to their admission criteria, including the selection criteria outlined by the Archdiocese of Dublin, and how they are applied, once it is non-discriminatory and fair.

Question No. 297 answered with Question No. 279.

National Educational Psychological Service

Question No. 299 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (298)

Carol Nolan

Question:

298. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education if the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, is sufficiently resourced to provide educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools; her plans to recruit staff to NEPS to deal with the increase in psychological distress being caused to students as a result of Covid-19-related restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2364/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) is the psychological service of my Department. It is a school-based service with an overall objective of providing an educational psychology service to all schools, through the application of psychological theory and practice, to support the wellbeing, and academic, social and emotional development of all learners. NEPS prioritises support for learners at risk of educational disadvantage and those with special educational needs. NEPS provides educational psychological support to all primary and post-primary schools. This involves direct support in the event of a critical incident, access to national and regional support and development work to build school capacity to support students, access to a NEPS psychologist for responses to queries arising, and access to individual pupil casework via a NEPS psychologist or through the Scheme for the Commissioning of Psychological Assessments. (SCPA).

NEPS is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities at this time. This requires a structured, psychosocial response which is compassionate and largely preventative and proactive. A whole-school team approach to planning is recommended in order to ensure that staff, students and parents feel safe and secure. This response is aligned with the HSE guidance on such responses, and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope.

NEPS has created a range of resources and support including Wellbeing Webinars for primary/special/post-primary schools, Wellbeing Toolkits for Schools with a range of easily downloadable, user-friendly materials and advice and resources for parents, student and school staff to support their wellbeing at this time. Other resources include:

Students

- Advice for young people while schools are closed

- A Plan for the Day – A template to support daily routines

- Managing Stress and Anxiety – a guide for students

- Panic attacks – a guide for students

Teachers

- The response to stress information for school staff

- Normalising thoughts feelings and behaviour – a guide for school staff

- Guidelines for Teachers - Listen, Connect, Model & Teach (This guide has been developed to enable teachers to talk in a comforting and supportive way with students who may need the support of the Student Support Team at this time

- Managing Stress and Anxiety in students – A Guide for School Staff

Parents

- A Guide for Parents on supporting children and young people with daily routines while schools are closed

- How to Calm and Support your Child – A Guide for Parents and Guardians

- Managing Stress and Anxiety - A Guide for Parents and Guardians

These resources can be accessed on the gov.ie website.

NEPS psychologists continue to provide a service to schools via remote access. All psychologists have been asked to continue to maintain contact with their assigned schools during this current period of school closure and they will continue to provide those elements of case work that can be managed remotely to support the learning and wellbeing of children and young people during this time. With the support of schools, this may include consultation with teachers and/or teachers and parents, input into Student Support Plans/Reviews and feedback to teachers and/or parents. NEPS will also continue to provide support to schools in the event of a critical incident.

In the event that the need for a more targeted counselling or a specialised intervention is identified by the NEPS psychologist, a referral is made to an outside agency for evaluation and ongoing support. The NEPS psychologist will identify the most appropriate referral pathway and support schools with the onward referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team (CAMHS), HSE Primary Care/Community Psychology teams, or an identified local community based specialist mental health service.

At post primary level, each school currently receives an allocation in respect of guidance provision, which is calculated by reference to the approved enrolment. Counselling is a key part of the role of the Guidance Counsellor, offered on an individual or group basis as part of a developmental learning process, at moments of personal crisis but also at key transition points. The Guidance Counsellor also identifies and supports the referral of students to external counselling agencies and professionals, as required. The Guidance Counsellor is key in developing and implementing innovative approaches to wellbeing promotion on a whole schools basis though the school’s Guidance Plan.

Overall responsibility for the provision of child and adolescent mental health services lies within the remit of the Department of Health. The Department of Health and HSE have ensured the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for young people. The stepped care approach recognises that at present, there already exists services that offer online text and telephone supports to people seeking mental health information and advice. These include the Samaritans, Pieta House, MyMind, Turn2Me, Aware, Crisis Text Ireland, Shine, BeLongTo, LGBT Ireland, Jigsaw, Bodywhys and Childline. The YourMentalHealth.ie website provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ portal for people seeking information, supports and services, including information on accessing urgent help and a mental health text messaging support service which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days each week to connect people with trained volunteers.

I can inform the Deputy that starting from a level of 173 whole-time equivalents in 2016 and following increases allowed in Budgets 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 the sanctioned number for NEPS psychologist currently stands at 221 w.t.e. This includes an additional 17 psychologist posts to support the wellbeing of school communities.

Some 205 of these posts are currently filled which represents the highest number of psychologists to be employed within NEPS since the inception of the service in 2000. The filling of the remaining posts is being actively pursued by my Department in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service and a number of new appointments are imminent.

This Government remains firmly committed to the maintenance of a robust and effective educational psychological service.

Question No. 299 answered with Question No. 279.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Question No. 301 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (300)

Holly Cairns

Question:

300. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education if employees of her Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2397/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The administration of the vaccine and prioritisation of vulnerable or essential groups is a matter for the Health Service Executive. As the Deputy will be aware, the Strategy for the vaccine was developed by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and Department of Health, endorsed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), and approved by Government on 8 December 2020. Sections of my Department who interact directly with the education system as part of their normal duties have relevant Covid -19 protocols in place as specified by the Health and Safety Authority.

No arrangements have been made to vaccinate employees of my department against Covid-19 at the present time.

Question No. 301 answered with Question No. 279.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (302, 304)

Seán Canney

Question:

302. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Education her plans to open special needs schools during the Covid-19 lockdown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2445/21]

View answer

Seán Canney

Question:

304. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Education her plans to facilitate special needs students who are attending mainstream schools during the Covid-19 restrictions. [2448/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 302 and 304 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 Department 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 essential workers providing an essential service.

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.

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

State Examinations

Question No. 304 answered with Question No. 302.

Questions (303)

Seán Canney

Question:

303. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Education her plans for the leaving certificate examination in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2447/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It remains the Government's intention to operate the conventional 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations, with appropriate public health measures in place. This view is shared by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), which has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations

Planning for these examinations is underway by the SEC and the 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. The advisory group includes representatives of students, 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 for this week. The advisory group will consider all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 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 to 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 until 1 February.

From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including Leaving Certificate 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. 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.

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 21 December 2020, the Department published an updated version of the publication which includes clarifications in relation to a number of subjects.

These arrangements are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by students during the 2019/20 school year and to factor in for some further possible loss of learning time in the 2020/21 school year as a contingency measure. As the loss of learning through school closures affects students’ engagement with their course of study in different ways, the adjustments put in place play to students’ strengths by leaving intact the familiar overall structure of the examinations, while incorporating additional choice. The adjustments were arrived at through discussions between my Department, the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and key stakeholders.

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 to the above the State Examinations Commission also advised schools in December of flexibility being provided for schools and students in the arrangements for the completion and authentication of coursework and that circular is available at www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/BI-EX-12232019.pdf. Further clarifications in this regard, on foot of the most recent school closure, will shortly be issued by the SEC.

The SEC has valuable learning from the experience of running the 2020 November state examinations, notwithstanding that the numbers taking these examinations were significantly lower than the number due to sit examinations in 2021. The measures relating to COVID-19 that were put in place for the November examinations will be considered as part of the planning for examinations in 2021.

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.

Question No. 304 answered with Question No. 302.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (305)

Neale Richmond

Question:

305. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Education the additional supports that have been provided to children of junior and senior infant level to ensure they are supported through remote learning and their social development is protected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2480/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise that the needs of pupils in the infant and junior classes require particular consideration. Schools have been advised that Parents/guardians will require specific guidance on how best to support their children at home, when in a position to do so. It is important that parents are provided with clear information about how the tasks and activities will help their child make progress in their learning.

In particular, these young children will benefit from home learning packs that contain a range of materials to support engaging and fun early literacy and numeracy skill development, specific opportunities for hands-on, active development of early literacy and numeracy skills, opportunities to learn from home using the home environment in an experiential way in subjects such as Social Environmental and Scientific Education (SESE) and the Visual Arts, and opportunities to share samples of learning activities with the class teacher and/or their peers.

Guidance on Remote Learning in a COVID-19 Context for primary schools(DE, October, 2020) outlines how schools should implement remote teaching and learning approaches, when necessary. It advises teachers of infant classes to provide materials to support engaging and fun early literacy and numeracy skill development at home, opportunities for hands-on, active learning and opportunities to share learning with the class teacher and/or their peers. Teachers are required to connect with pupils on a daily basis and provide feedback on pupil progress.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has provided advice on wellbeing and resources to support schools, pupils and parents. This includes resources and supports for primary schools in supporting pupil’s wellbeing in a remote learning context. Advice is also provided to learners of all ages on staying active and connected.

Schools have been provided with €100m funding during 2020 to ensure that all pupils have sufficient access to technology to support remote teaching and learning, when needed.

Teachers of infant classes are best placed to make decisions about teaching and learning for their own pupils. They have the curriculum knowledge, the contextual knowledge of the pupils’ families and a deep understanding of their pupils’ needs. The Professional Development Service for Teachers has provided of resources to support teachers in this regard during periods of remote teaching and learning.