I propose to take Questions Nos. 369, 396 and 452 together.
My Department is conscious of the fact that closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level and that the effect on children with special educational needs can be even greater.
Following intensive engagement and input from primary, post-primary and special education partners, a framework has now been developed and agreed with all partners, including unions and management, in order to achieve a phased return to in-school provision for children with special educational needs.
Under the framework the following phased return to in-school provision has been agreed:
Phase 1: Special schools reopened on Thursday 11th February 2021. In accordance with this agreement pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.
Phase 2: Primary and Post-Primary Special Classes will reopen from Monday 22nd February 2021. Pupils are expected to attend these classes on a full-time basis.
Special classes at primary and post-primary level will be supported in their return by the enhanced school teams put in place by the HSE and the Department of Education. Updated guidance and information on the supports for schools has been made available to primary schools, and will be made available to post-primary schools in advance of the return.
Recognising that remote learning is particularly challenging for some students with complex needs, the Department of Education has also put in place a supplementary programme to support the education and/or care needs of students with complex needs at primary and post-primary level.
Eligibility for the programme will comprise:
- All pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes in primary schools and post-primary schools
- Pupils in mainstream primary and post-primary schools who are accessing the highest levels of support in school at the School Support Plus/Support for a Few stage of the Continuum of Support. This includes pupils with Autism, Down syndrome, sensory impairments, and other disabilities, as well as pupils who were identified for the Summer Provision Programmes of 2020.
- Schools have flexibility to identify pupils that require the highest level of support at any given time. This will ensure that pupils presenting with exceptional needs due to the current school closures can participate in the scheme.
This programme of in-person support is intended to supplement the teaching and learning provided by the student’s school and alleviate the impact of this period of school closure through the provision of 5 hours per week in-person teaching or care support to be delivered in homes.
An allocation of five hours per week of home-based teaching or care supports will be made available to eligible students for four weeks.
The support programme must be delivered outside of the normal school day (i.e. evenings and weekends), so that the student can continue to engage as fully as possible with the teaching and learning provided by their school.
Any unused hours can be delivered to families at any time before 30 April 2021, including during the Easter holidays.
Intensive engagement is continuing with education stakeholders, towards a full return of all students to in-person teaching and learning in primary and post primary schools as soon as possible and when it is safe to do so.