Following the school closure in March 2020, my Department published a range of guidance to assist schools and teachers in ensuring continuity of teaching and learning for students as well as supporting their wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guidance aimed, inter alia, to ensure regular engagement of students in lessons, tasks and learning experiences across the range of curriculum subjects, provision of regular assignments and regular, practical, supportive and customised feedback on work submitted.
Schools adopted various ways to engage with their students in accordance with the technology and broadband resources available in school and at home, including by post, e-mails, communication apps, the school website, use of other digital communicative platforms, including live meetings. Schools were asked to be conscious of pupils who may not have access to online facilities and to adapt approaches so that these pupils continued to have the opportunity to participate in learning.
The aim of these distance learning approaches, the guidance which issued to all schools and the regular engagement with students, was to ensure that students stayed connected with and progressed their learning. These actions will, therefore, have helped to minimise the impact of school closure. The reopening in time for the start of the new school year remains a top priority for my department.
In the context of planning for a return to school which is underway, the Department recently published a report to Government on Planning for reopening schools in line with the Roadmap for reopening. This report is available on my Department’s website.
My Department, in consultation with relevant agencies, including the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), identified the following key priorities in supporting students in re-engaging with the curriculum in the new school year:
1. The wellbeing and socialisation of students
2. Assessing where students are in terms of their learning
3. Identifying the additional supports that particular learners may require
4. Exploring options for remote provision that will compliment in-school provision and address curriculum gaps experienced during school closure.
It is recognised that schools continue to be best placed to make decisions about how to support and educate all their learners during this period. My Department will continue to collaborate with the NCCA to develop guidance to schools to assist them in their planning for the next school year so as to ensure that curricular priorities are delivered and that teaching and learning is optimal in these circumstances, guided at all times by public health advice.
Students going into sixth year in post primary schools are a group that will receive a particular focus in the context of their preparations for the Leaving Certificate examinations in 2021. The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for the operation of the state examinations. My Department will engage with the SEC and the NCCA in the development of fair and robust assessment arrangements in relation to both the Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021.
My Department is acutely aware of the challenges faced by students at this difficult time, and how the current circumstances will continue to present challenges into the future. The welfare of students is, and will continue to be, front and centre in all decision making.