When pupils have started back in school, the principal and teachers can assess their needs and adapt their teaching programme so that any gaps in their learning resulting from the temporary closure of schools can be addressed. For the vast majority of pupils, this will ensure progression is as seamless a manner as possible.
Teachers are very well placed to identify and support the emerging learning needs of their pupils through on-going revision and consolidation activities that will support learning for all. They will continue to monitor and reflect on the needs of the pupils in their class and identify pupils who may not have needed additional support in the past, but who require specific short-term or medium-term interventions after periods of sustained school closures / absences in order to continue to make progress.
The Department has not issued guidance to schools in relation to the 2021/2022 school year specifically. However, many of the messages outlined in the existing guidance, Returning to school: Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers , published in July 2020 for the 2020/21 school year will be relevant to teachers as they prepare for the 2021/2022 school year.
It is important to note, however, that the school closures for this school year have been for a shorter duration, and schools have also used the start of the 2020/21 school year to put contingency plans in place for remote teaching and learning, meaning that they have been able to move to remote teaching and learning with greater ease than during the 2020 school closures.
In Returning to school: Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers, schools were advised that
- Curriculum considerations for the new school year must take account of the variable learning experiences of pupils during the period of school closure and the practical contexts in which teaching and learning will be taking place in the new school year. It is likely that pupils with special educational needs, pupils at risk of educational disadvantage, pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) and pupils experiencing homelessness or living in direct provision have been the most adversely affected by the lack of classroom contact time. The school community and relevant organisations and agencies need to ensure that those pupils receive the necessary supports in their learning in the 2020/21 school year.
- Teachers continue to provide a broad range of active learning experiences for all pupils. These include play-based learning, inquiry-based learning, talk and discussion, use of digital technologies, and learning in the environment. Care should be taken to avoid the over use of teacher-directed and didactic approaches to teaching and learning in an effort to ‘catch up’ or ‘cover lost ground.’
- Methodologies that support language learning, learning in the outdoor environment, play-based learning, thematic and integrated approaches to learning and collaborative learning are all effective ways of addressing pupils needs
- It will be important to reinforce and consolidate pupils’ learning from their previous class. Teachers might find it useful to work with the curriculum content, objectives and learning outcomes for the previous class level for at least the month of September in order to ensure that pupils are ready to commence new learning. Again, it is worth noting that this message will likely not be as necessary in September 2021 as it is hoped all pupils will return to school in the coming weeks for the remainder of the school year.
- They should prioritise Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Physical Education (PE), language and mathematics in the initial weeks of the school year. Many schools will prioritise these subject areas when schools reopen in Term 2 2021, but the need to prioritise these areas will be lessened if schools reopen as planned in the coming weeks.
In summary, schools have received advice on how to address pupil needs since the initial school closure in 2020. Special Education schools returned on the 11th February followed by Special-education classes in mainstream primary schools on 22nd February. As of Monday 1st March junior infants to second class have returned to primary school with the 15th March the target date for the return to in-school provision of the rest of primary school children – third to sixth class. This date will be reviewed during the period following 1 March. As it is envisaged that the school closures for 2020/2021 will not have lasted for as long as the previous school year and schools are more adept at providing for remote teaching and learning, no specific advice for the 2021/2022 school year has yet been published. If there is a need for such advice, this will be issued in due course.