Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (139)

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

139. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of a scheme to promote school visits to OPW sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26358/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I recognise that our heritage sites are a fantastic educational resource and engendering an appreciation of those sites amongst our younger population is a core aim of the Office of Public Works' Heritage Services.

Under the OPW’s Educational School Visits Scheme, school groups of primary and second-level students can explore our sites free of charge. Visits must be during the school year and follow the national curriculum approved by the Department of Education and Skills. The Scheme has been in place for many years and has proven hugely popular with students and teachers alike. In 2017 76,928 children visited our sites under the scheme, 83,769 in 2018 and 90,472 in 2019.

In the current circumstances, the OPW will be operating the Scheme in line with prevailing NPHET guidelines and in this context, they have advised me that they do not feel that an active marketing campaign to publicise the offer would be appropriate, as any resulting rush by schools to the Scheme in the short term would inevitably lead to problems of overcrowding at popular sites. Within the capacity constraints currently in force at sites I can, however, assure the Deputy that the OPW will continue to welcome and accommodate school visits where they can. Teachers can book visits directly with the sites; full terms and conditions are available on the Heritage Ireland website.

In recognition of the fact that some visits planned previously may be not now be possible, our sites are working on outreach to schools and on developing new ways of engaging with students. For example, at Brú na Bóinne , the guides will send the teacher a free DVD which is a 20-minute film about the monuments and in particular, the Winter Solstice at Newgrange. They will also send out free school worksheets and invite schools to get in touch via video-conferencing so that their pupils can ask questions and chat to some of the guides.

Another example is Glebe House and Gallery in Letterkenny, where the staff have put an art teachers focus group together and are developing a series of blended learning tools for Junior and Leaving Certificate students. This represents an expansion of the services previously offered at the site as they could only work with Leaving Certificate students in the past due to the time resources necessary to facilitate each group. They will reach a lot more students than in ordinary circumstances as a result of this new initiative.

I am confident that OPW guide staff will continue to find new and innovative ways of engaging with this most important segment of their audience.