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Covid-19 Pandemic

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 27 May 2020

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Ceisteanna (240, 245)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

240. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if special schools and special classes are being considered in the context of plans to reopen schools in September 2020. [7874/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

245. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a specific plan is being developed to support the reopening of special schools and special classes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7879/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 240 and 245 together.

On 1st May 2020, the Government published a roadmap to ease Covid-19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society.

To assist with the development of contingency plans for the re-opening and operation of schools, including special schools, in an environment that may require social distancing and other public health requirements, my Department will be engaging with relevant stakeholders and experts from within the education sector. This work will be based on the National Return to Work Safely Protocol that was published by Government and will also be informed by guidance and experience from other jurisdictions.

A core objective of the contingency plans will be to ensure that schools and other education settings can re-open and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice.

Following consultation with the education partners, guidance will issue to schools on the logistical and curricular arrangements to be put in place to facilitate the phased re-opening of schools. This guidance will provide a framework for individual schools, including special schools, to develop plans for the re-opening of school in accordance with their own circumstances and context and the needs of their staff and students.

A range of support and guidance has been provided for schools on how to provide for the continuing education for pupils over the current school closure period.

In additional to the general guidance that has been provided for schools, additional support material has also been provided specifically on how schools should provide for the continuity of education for children with special educational needs. This guidance is available at:

https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/National-Emergencies-Public-Health-Issues/guidance-continuity-of-schooling-supporting-pupils-with-sen-primary.pdf

https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/National-Emergencies-Public-Health-Issues/guidance-continuity-of-schooling-supporting-students-with-sen-post-primary.pdf

The guidance notes that there is a particular need for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to have regular, ongoing schooling. While all pupils need to be supported to maintain their engagement in learning, those with SEN are among those who need most support at this time. Examples of strategies and measures to ensure that the needs of pupils with SEN are catered for, are provided in the guidance documents and a range of resources are also identified for parents.

It sets out the role of schools and teachers in engaging with pupils with SEN and the role of teachers and school leaders to support such pupils. It advises schools as to how best to keep in touch with parents and guardians and how to keep pupils with SEN safe and engaged in the distance learning environment.

The guidance sets out the role of the special education teacher to support children with special educational needs at this time. It notes that the special education teacher’s knowledge of their pupils’ priority learning needs and agreed targets, as outlined in the pupil support file, will enable them to work with parents and guardians to choose appropriate supports in a remote learning environment.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is also providing a range of online resources for parents and teachers to support home learning for children with special educational needs during the Covid 19 restrictions.

In addition to the normal supports, the NCSE is providing online resources for children with Special Educational Needs who are at home as a result of the schools’ closure.

Supports provided include those relating to general learning and difficulties for pupils with SEN, Curriculum support, speech language and communication, occupational therapy support, guidance around behaviour, and learning and resources on ‘Visiting Teachers Support’ for a teacher who

teaches children with sensory impairment

Details of the full range of supports that the NCSE provides for teachers and parents is available at:

https://ncse.ie/online-resources

The Department of Education and Skills’ NEPS psychologists have also developed advice and resources for young people to manage and stay well when schools are closed. The NEPS advice & resources for keeping children and young people well during Covid-19 are available at https://www.education.ie/covid19/wellbeing/

Guidance for parents of primary school and special school pupils, which sets out what they should expect in relation to engagement in distance learning from schools, and how they can support their child in a home schooling environment is also available at:

https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/continuity-of-schooling/continuity-of-schooling.html

A special €10 million fund has been made available to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students and students with special educational needs during this period of school closure.

Question No. 241 answered with Question No. 130.
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