I wish to advise the Deputy that decisions in relation to schools re-opening and operating will be underpinned by the ongoing Public Health advice.
Engagement is underway with stakeholders in the education sector to develop contingency plans for the re-opening and operation of schools.
On 12th June, 2020, my Department published a plan for reopening schools in line with the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business.
The Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business describes how the COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted. Phase 4 of the Roadmap sets out that educational institutions can open on a phased basis at the beginning of the academic year 2020/21 with a limited reopening provided for from Phase 2 on 8th June 2020. This report sets out the risks and impacts on children and society where access to education is significantly reduced. The Department considers that fully reopening schools for children is a clear objective for the end August/September.
This report is available at: https://www.education.ie/en/covid-19/planning-for-reopening-schools.pdf
In the interim, my Department has provided a range of support and guidance for schools on how to provide for the continuing education for pupils over the current school closure period.
Supports are provided to schools and teachers engaged in distance learning and these are available at https://www.education.ie/en/covid-19/#14
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:
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.
Special Education Teachers (SETs) are asked to carefully examine how progress on the existing learning targets in student support plans can be reasonably extended by home learning. They are asked to use this knowledge to communicate with the pupils and their parents and guardians and to establish what methods will work best to achieve continuity of learning for the pupils.
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:
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/well-being/
Guidelines for continued provision of Guidance Counselling and resources available to support practice is available at https://www.education.ie/en/Schools-Colleges/Information/Post-Primary-School-Policies/Policies/Guidance-Plan.html
Guidance for parents of primary 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:
I also recently announced that a special €10 million fund is being made available to support the purchase of technology and devices for disadvantaged students, including students with special educational needs.
This is additional to the latest round of funding for ICT under the Digital Strategy for Schools whereby €40m grant funding will be distributed in the coming weeks to eligible. €10m additional funding is also now issuing to schools to support children and young people who are at risk of educational disadvantage during the period of school closures.
There are currently over 13,500 additional Special Education Teachers allocated to mainstream primary and post primary schools to provide additional teaching support to pupils. There are also up to 17,000 Special Needs Assistants available for allocation to schools. There are no proposals at present to review the existing criteria for the allocation of special education supports for schools, or to adjust the current criteria of the allocation of supports, due to matters arising from COVID 19, however, this matter will be kept under review in the context of the re opening of schools.
While recognising the difficulty that school closure has had for parents and pupils, particularly in relation to pupils with special educational needs, my Department will continue to support and encourage schools to provide as much continuity of education as possible for such pupils, while continuing to engage with public health officials and stakeholders in relation to when schools may re-open and operate in a safe manner that is consistent with public health advice.
Pending the wider reopening of schools, my Department also published on 12th June, 2020, details of a summer programme for children with special educational needs enrolled in special schools, special classes and mainstream classes. The programme incorporates some aspects of the July Provision of previous years.
Summer Provision 2020 – Reconnecting with Education, is a significantly expanded programme for children with complex special educational needs which aims to re-establish the child’s relationships and connection with school and their peers as a basis for learning and participation and to help the child to re-engage in learning and social activities and help them adapt to new routines and changes. The programme aims to ensure, in so far as possible, that the child can reintegrate/transition into their planned education setting for the next school year with their peers. In-school or home-based supports by teachers and SNAs will help to prevent regression among children with special needs.
The eligibility criteria has been widened to include the following categories of children:
Pupils with a diagnosis of Autism
Pupils with severe and profound learning difficulties
Any child in a special class or special school
Children transitioning into a special class from early year’s settings
Pupils in primary school mainstream classes who present with the following disabilities:
Children with Down syndrome
Children who are Deaf or most severe hard of hearing
Children who are blind or have a most severe visual impairment
Children who have a moderate general learning disability
Children with severe emotional behavioural difficulties
All special schools and primary schools with special classes are invited to provide the school based summer provision for their students. This programme will run for a minimum of two weeks and can extend up to four weeks where the schools, teachers and Special Needs Assistants are willing to participate.
Home-based provision will be available where a child’s local school is not providing a programme or does not have the capacity to accommodate a child in a planned programme this year. In this situation my Department will provide grant funding towards the engagement by Parents of a registered teacher / SNA to provide home based support for 10 hours a week for 4 weeks.
The programme will be reliant on schools, teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) choosing to participate on a voluntary basis.
A dedicated online registration system for families of children with special needs to access Summer Provision is now available on Gov.ie/summerprovision
Parents are asked to register their participation online, providing some outline information of the extent of their participation in the programme e.g. number of weeks.
Once registered, the parent is then free to plan and organise the programme for their child by consulting with the child’s school and securing the services of a teacher or SNA.
Full information on the scheme and its various strands, including guidance information for parents, is available at Gov.ie/summerprovision.