I propose to take Questions Nos. 818 and 861 together.
I am 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.
Education has been deemed an essential service which means that the general public heath advice for people to stay at home does not apply to school staff providing an essential service like teachers and SNAs.
This has facilitated a phased re-opening of our schools which has been necessary to continue to limit the mobility of the population and curb the spread of the virus.
The phased re-opening have been developed in close collaboration with education stakeholders and follow ongoing engagement with the Department of Health and Public Health, HSE.
There is a period of time between each phase to assess the impact of reopening on aspects of community transmission. It is not possible for other children to return to in-school provision during this period.
The next phased return of students to in-school education and the associated target dates is
- Monday 12 April - the return to in-school education of the rest of post-primary students following the Easter break – i.e. first to fourth year students.
I know that this has been particularly challenging for many children with special educational needs who have not yet returned to school and their families.
My Department is anxious to support those pupils/students with SEN who are unable to return to in-school teaching and learning under these phases.
At Post Primary level in recognition that not all students with complex special education needs will be back in school in this phase, the supplementary programme for eligible students who have not yet returned to in person learning will be extended by a further two weeks (an additional 10 hours, for a total allocation of 30 hours).
Any unused hours can be delivered to families at any time before 30th April 2021, including during the Easter holidays.
My Department has been contacted by schools and families who wish to access the supplementary programme in school settings. The Department has engaged with the education stakeholders, particularly the school management bodies on the logistical issues which may need to be considered in the running of this programme in school premises, particularly as this programme is intended to happen outside of school hours such as evenings, weekends and over the Easter break.
My Department has confirmed to the management bodies that the running of the supplementary programme in schools is an authorised activity. It is open to any Board of Management, if they so wish, to make their school premises available to facilitate the running of the supplementary programme.