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Departmental Policies

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 17 June 2021

Thursday, 17 June 2021

Questions (338)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

338. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education if she will outline her key policy achievements in her Department since 27 June 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32714/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

Within the past year, the key objectives and achievements for my department included the safe reopening of schools and the continuity of the Leaving Certificate amid the adversity and disruptions of the pandemic.

A key objective of the Government’s plan for living with COVID-19 was that our children and school staff could attend school safely. On 27 July 2020 I published ‘Reopening Our Schools: The Roadmap for The Full Return to School’, supported by a funding package of €375 million with this funding being supplemented over the course of the academic year. The safe return to schools in September 2020 involved approximately 1 million students and 100,000 staff in 4,000 schools. This was supported by special arrangements for PPE, school transport, classroom layouts, curriculum guidance and additional staffing. In recognition of the fact that remote learning was particularly challenging for children with additional needs, a supplementary programme was put in place to support the education and/or care needs of pupils with complex needs.

Following a further period of school closure in early 2021, schools reopened on a phased basis in February/March, with a full reopening after the Easter break.

With regard to the Leaving Certificate, the provision of Calculated Grades for over 60,000 Leaving Certificate students in 2020 enabled them to progress to further and higher education and the world of work. For the 2021 Leaving Cert, following an intensive set of engagements with stakeholders, arrangements in respect of the 2021 state exams were decided on by Government on 17 February, with both written examinations and accredited grades available to students. The written Leaving Certificate written exams successfully commenced on 9 June with the orals in language subjects and the practical components in other subjects having taken place earlier including during the traditional Easter Holidays. The choice provided to students as between accredited grades or examinations or a combination of both is a student centred approach which I was anxious to deliver on.

Other significant achievements in the period referred to by the Deputy include:

- Significant increased investment in education secured in Budget 2021. Budget 2021 continued the programme of major reinvestment in our primary and post-primary education system. Building on the initiatives set out in the Programme for Government, the budget for the Department of Education will be €8.9 billion in 2021, an increase of €410 million or some 5 five per cent on 2020 and creating 1,065 new teaching posts. This investment will see the primary staffing schedule reduced by one point, to a historically low level of 25:1.

- Expanded summer provision for pupils with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage was delivered in Summer 2020 and, for 2021, I secured a doubling of the funding available to €40m so that the programmes could be further expanded.

- Development of a New Digital Strategy for Schools

- The launch of a new arts in education initiative – BLAST 2021

- Payment of €100 million in ICT grant funding for schools, inclusive of a special €10 million payment to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students during the school closures period.

- Payment of €50 million under the Minor Works Scheme to primary and post-primary schools.

- A 6 week sampler module of languages in primary schools has been announced, with schools invited to express an interest in participating with funding to support the participation of at least 100 schools provided. It will include foreign languages and Irish Sign Language (ISL) and will run for 6 weeks towards the end of the first term of the 2021/22 school year. The module will be used to inform the development of a new primary curriculum for foreign languages over the coming years.

- Budget 2021 investment includes a capital allocation for new and more energy-efficient school buildings with a €740 million budget for 2021 under Project Ireland 2040.

- €160 million was provided to schools in Minor Works funding in 2020, including €30 million which was brought forward from 2021. Due to the unprecedented Covid-19 situation, exceptional Minor Works Grant funding was also provided to Post Primary schools.

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