Covid-19 Pandemic

Question No. 307 answered with Question No. 283.

Questions (306)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

306. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education her plans to make up the three days of lost schooling that were added on to the end of the most recent school holiday; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2490/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government decision, taken on 30 December, on foot of public health advice to reduce mobility in the community, was to extend school holidays by 3 days.

My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to pupils/students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 for all pupils/students in a Covid-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

The Department’s ongoing engagement with public health and partners at the present time is focussing on the safe return of pupils and students to school and supporting the provision of remote learning at this time.

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.

Question No. 307 answered with Question No. 283.

Special Educational Needs

Questions (308)

Michael Lowry

Question:

308. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Education the status of an application by a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary for additional special education teacher hours, given the hours it currently has do not suffice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2515/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

DES Circular 0013/2017 for primary schools and 0014/2017 for post primary schools set out details of a new model for allocating special education teachers to schools.

DES Circulars 0007/2019 for primary schools and 0008/2019 for post primary schools also provide details of how the allocations are being updated for schools from September 2019, based on updated profile data.

All schools received revised allocations from September 2019.

The Special Education Teaching allocation provides a single unified allocation for special educational support teaching needs to each school, based on each school’s educational profile.

Under the allocation model, schools have been provided with a total allocation for special education needs support based on their school profile.

The provision of a profiled allocation is designed to give a fair allocation for each school which recognises that all schools need an allocation for special needs support, but which provides a graduated allocation which takes into account the level of need in each school.

Schools are front-loaded with resources, based on each school’s profile. The allocations to schools include provision to support all pupils in the schools, including where a child receives a diagnosis after the allocation is received by a school, or where there are newly enrolling pupils to the school.

A process is also in place to address circumstances where the school profile significantly changes following the allocation process e.g. a developing school where the net enrolment numbers significantly increased.

The criteria for qualification for mainstream school developing school posts are set out in the Primary and Post Primary School Staffing Schedule each school year.

Schools who qualify for additional mainstream developing school posts in accordance with these criteria also qualify for additional Special Education Teaching Allocations to take account of this developing status and these allocations are automatically applied for schools.

Finally, it is acknowledged that there are some circumstances, which may arise in schools, which fall outside the appeals process, or allocations for developing school status.

These relate to exceptional or emergency circumstances which could not have been anticipated e.g. where the school profile changes very significantly, or where other exceptional circumstances have arisen in a school and which may require a review of schools capacity to provide additional teaching support for all pupils who need it in the school, or of their utilisation of their allocations.

Schools who wish to seek a review of their special education teacher allocations may apply here https://ncse.ie/review-of-special-education-teacher-supports-where-there-are-exceptional-circumstances-or-needs-arising-in-a-school-2.

An application for an Exceptional Needs Review was made by the school referred to by the Deputy in this question, in December 2020. The NCSE is currently processing review applications and the result of this review will be communicated directly to the school in due course.

State Examinations

Questions (309)

Paul Murphy

Question:

309. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education if a deadline will be set for a decision on whether the leaving certificate oral and practical exams are to proceed, given the spread of Covid-19 infection and the possibility that schools will remain closed beyond 31 January 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2530/21]

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.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (310)

Paul Murphy

Question:

310. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education if funding to schools will be increased to ensure full PPE provision, given the need to stop the spread of Covid-19 infection now and into the future and taking account of the concerns of teachers, students and their families regarding the safe functioning and reopening of schools, in particular in special education settings; if she will review the procedures for contact tracing in schools to give schools the deciding role in identifying close contacts of persons who attended with confirmed Covid-19 infection; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2531/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Government published the Roadmap for the Full Return to School, along with details of a financial package of over €375 million to support the implementation of the measures in the roadmap, following approval by Government.

The range of supports being made available to all schools in the free education scheme include additional financial supports to provide for PPE and hand hygiene costs under the COVID-19 response plans.

Schools are paid the PPE grant by my Department based on pupil enrolment and the per capita rates which are provided in the table attached.

The first instalment of the PPE grant, which issued in August 2020, reflected the fact that the first term was 25% longer than the second and there were a number of once off type costs which schools faced at that time such as the cost of purchasing and installing dispensers, bins etc. Therefore the rates for the second instalment of the PPE grant, which issued on 6th January last, have been revised accordingly.

My Department will be reviewing the funding provided and following this review details of the third and final instalment of these grants for the 2020/2021 school year will be made available in due course.

In terms of what happens when a child attending school tests positive for Covid-19, the HSE will inform the school principal if the child was in the school in the infectious period regardless of consent. In these circumstances the HSE will conduct a Public Health Risk Assessment with the school principal. This is usually undertaken the same day they are notified, but it may be the following day.

Public Health will work with the school principal to identify the close contacts and all close contact will be informed and scheduled for testing and asked to restrict their movements. Parent/guardians will be informed if their child is a close contact.

The wider school community can be informed that the school is working with public health who are guiding the school through the actions they need to take to protect staff, pupils and the school community. It is important to note that the response to confirmed cases or outbreaks of Covid-19 in the community or in a school is the responsibility of, and will be led and managed by, Public Health HSE. All decisions as to appropriate actions following a confirmed case or outbreak will be made by their teams in the context of a full Public Health Risk Assessment procedure.

Primary Rates per pupil

Post Primary Rates

Term 1

Term 2

Term 1

Term 2

Mainstream

€25.00

€15.00

€40.00

€24.00

Special Classes

€100.00

€60.00

€160.00

€96.00

State Examinations

Question No. 312 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (311)

Paul Murphy

Question:

311. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Education if she will give leaving certificate students the option of predicted grades or sitting the written exams, given the spread of Covid-19 infection and the possibility that schools will remain closed longer than 31 January 2021; if she will set a date to announce these options along with the relevant details; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2532/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

It remains the governments firm 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 25 November and on 14 December 2020, 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. 312 answered with Question No. 279.

State Examinations

Questions (313)

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

313. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Education if guidance is available to leaving certificate music students who intend to sing for their practical examination, given current departmental guidelines, which state that singing is not allowed in a school setting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2553/21]

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.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Question No. 315 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (314)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

314. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Education the level of financial support being given to schools by her Department to support teachers who are hosting classes online. [2645/21]

View answer

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. Schools can use this funding, inter alia, to acquire software applications or platforms to enable remote learning and communications, and to provide for devices to be loaned to teachers and learners in particular where needed to enable engagement with remote learning.

Funding for ICT is issued directly to schools given that schools are best placed to determine the ICT needs of their school community. In addition my Department directly funds the provision of broadband connectivity for schools at a cost of some €13m per annum. School buildings will remain open to allow staff access where this is essential to facilitate remote learning.

Extensive support and advice for teachers and schools to provide remote learning has been, and continues to be made available through my Department’s support service, the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) and its Technology in Education team at www.pdsttechnologyineducation.ie The information on this website includes a link to a dedicated PDST portal https://www.pdst.ie/DistanceLearning aimed at supporting teachers and schools in the remote learning environment. This resource includes information on popular communication and learning platforms, digital tools and resources, video conferencing, webinars to support and inspire teachers to identify good practice and a dedicated online course for teachers for remote learning. The Department’s Education website www.scoilnet.ie also contains a wealth of curriculum tagged resources that can be used by teachers, students and parents to support the continuity of learning in the remote environment.

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.

Question No. 315 answered with Question No. 279.

Ministerial Meetings

Questions (316)

Holly Cairns

Question:

316. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education her engagement with a union (details supplied) prior to her announcement on 6 January 2021 that leaving certificate students were to return for three days per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2680/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

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.

School Accommodation

Questions (317)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

317. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Education the status of the building project to provide improved accommodation for a school (details supplied) in county Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2738/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that a building project for the school in question is included in my Department's school building programme.

The next step includes determining the accommodation brief for the project, which will be part of a campus development, with a view to progressing the project to the next stage as quickly as possible. My Department is in ongoing contact with the school authorities in this regard.

Teacher Training

Questions (318)

Michael Lowry

Question:

318. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Education if consideration will be given to pay or travel and accommodation allowances for student teachers who are required to complete teaching placement in allocated schools; if she will take into account that many of these students are currently living in their parental homes with vulnerable, sick or elderly parents who are cocooning; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2744/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

School Placement is a critical part of initial teacher education (ITE). It is first and foremost a space and time where student teachers learn to become teachers. It enables the student teacher to experience teaching and learning in a variety of contexts, and to participate in school life in a way that is structured and supported.

In consultation with my Department and the relevant stakeholders, the Teaching Council published a Guidance Note on School Placement 2020/2021 in August 2020. In the context of Covid-19, this Guidance Note sets out a clear and flexible framework for both Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and schools in relation to the planning and facilitation of school placement for the academic year 2020-2021.

It recognises a variety of sites of practice and learning in which school placement can be completed taking account of the sites of practice that emerged for teaching and learning following the closure of schools due to Covid-19 in March 2020. It also acknowledges that flexibility in terms of modes of assessment of student teachers by HEI tutors is necessary and outlines a range of feasible options that can be considered by HEIs.

The guidance allows for student teachers to continue or commence their school placement with a particular school during the current period of remote teaching and learning.

State Examinations

Question No. 320 answered with Question No. 279.

Questions (319)

Seán Crowe

Question:

319. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Education if consideration has been given to extending the January 2021 deadline for the leaving certificate design and communication graphics project, given that the majority of the project work has to be done in schools due to the software requirements and the need for teachers to sign off on the work. [2754/21]

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.

Question No. 320 answered with Question No. 279.