I wish to advise the Deputy that during the period of school closures, my Department provided schools in the primary and special school sector and at post-primary level with a series of “Continuity of Schooling Guidance” documents to help education professionals and parents to support children learning in a remote environment. The events surrounding COVID-19 and the public health restrictions which resulted in the emergency closure of schools to learners has highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in how they can provide for continuity of teaching and learning in the future.
The continuity of teaching and learning during the emergency period was achieved with significant additional effort from all school staff working remotely to ensure students were supported during this time. Most schools put in place arrangements to communicate with students and parents demonstrating innovation and resilience by providing flexible local responses.
My Department has updated its Continuity of Schooling Guidance documents to support schools in responding in an agile way in the event of localised school closure or to continue to support pupils with medical or special educational needs who cannot attend school.
My Department has also published its Roadmap to support the Full Reopening of schools, which is currently being implemented, with most schools now having reopened.
The Roadmap to the Full Reopening of schools includes details of a dedicated package of additional supports for Special Educational Needs which is being made available to schools to implement their Covid-19 Response Plan and to operate in a sustainable way. Full details are available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/a128d-back-to-school/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/backtoschool/
Pupils with special education needs (SEN), especially those with complex needs, will need additional, individualised supports to enable them make a successful return to school. The SEN supports for SEN pupils who are at very high risk to COVID-19 that would normally be available to them to address their special educational needs will continue to be available to them in the context of both adapted education provision and on their return to school.
Guidance and resources have been issued to schools.
In relation to whether children with special educational needs should return to school, the Department of Education advice on Protecting your child from coronavirus recommends that all children should attend school as normal unless they:
- have a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more
- have other common symptoms of coronavirus - a new cough, loss or changed sense of taste or smell, or shortness of breath
- have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus
- live with someone who is unwell and may have coronavirus
Where parents are worried about their children’s health, they should phone their GP.
Children with underlying health conditions may be vulnerable to any infection. But it appears the risk of severe illness from coronavirus is low, even if a child has:
- an underlying health condition
- special healthcare needs
If a child has a health condition they and everyone in the family should still:
- be extra careful in watching out for symptoms
- strictly follow the advice on good hygiene and hand washing
Children with health conditions or special educational needs should be supported and encouraged to try and keep up their normal activities and attend school. This is good for their overall well-being.
If a child has recently had a transplant or has severe immunodeficiency, parents should talk with their specialist. They will advise if the child needs to take any extra precautions.
If parents have concerns about a child's health condition, they should ask their specialist team for advice.
Further details about what to do if a child has symptoms of coronavirus, when to keep a child at home and phone a GP, when its Ok to send children to school, what to do if a child needs testing for coronavirus, and what to do if the child needs to stay home from school and self-isolate is available at -
It is recognised, however, that some students who have complex medical or special educational needs may not be able to return to school because the relevant public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.
These students’ schools will provide additional supports for these students through designated teachers from within the staffing resources of the school
Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of their pupils/students, including pupils/students at ‘very high risk’ to COVID-19.
At second level, there will be supports provided to schools to help match up supports for students who cannot go to school or whose teacher cannot come to school.
Primary schools can use any one or combination of the following options to facilitate adapted education provision for students at very high risk to COVID-19.
- A designated teacher who is at very high risk to COVID-19:
In some instances students may be supported by teachers from their school or from another school, who are assessed as being at very high risk to COVID-19 and who are available to work from home. Local education centres will compile a list of schools in a region that have teachers in this category. Schools with pupils who are at very high risk to COVID-19 can liaise with their local education centre which will connect the teacher working from home with the pupils’ school for the purpose of supporting the pupils’ learning from home.
- Alternatively, schools can organise their own local clusters to match pupils and teachers in these categories, outside of the education centre structure. In some instances, clusters formed for substitute teachers to cover principal release days might be considered.
- A designated teacher from the school’s existing support resources: Schools also have discretion to manage and redistribute their existing support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of students who are at very high risk to COVID-19. For example, special education teachers (SETs) can be designated to provide adapted education provision for students in this category, in particular those students who have special educational needs (SEN).
It will be important for schools to ensure that pupils at very high risk to COVID-19 will remain as connected as possible with their own school and classmates and that their learning will continue, as far as possible, in line with the curriculum and in a manner that is closely aligned to the learning of their peers.
For pupils with additional needs, appropriate differentiation of their learning will continue to be a priority. The overall responsibility for ensuring that pupils at very high risk to COVID-19 receive appropriate support remains with the school in which they are enrolled. Full details of how schools should provide this support are outlined in Continuity of schooling: Supporting primary pupils who are at very high risk to COVID-19 , which is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/a0bff-reopening-our-primary-and-special-schools/