Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Ceisteanna (279, 280, 288, 297, 299, 301, 312, 315, 320, 323, 324, 327)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

279. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education her plans to meet with persons (details supplied) as requested in order to find a way to prevent their children losing out on essential special education supports during the current level 5 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2187/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

280. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Education the analysis her Department has carried out into the feasibility of allowing special schools and classes to reopen during the current level 5 restrictions; the analysis her Department has carried out into the effects of the previous school closures on children with special education needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2188/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

288. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education if she will review correspondence (details supplied); the actions her Department is taking in relation to the matter; the details of these practices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2254/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

297. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education the status of the supports being provided to special needs and DEIS schools following the decision to prohibit physical access to students from 11 January 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2362/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

299. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education the steps she is taking to ensure the safe return of special schools and classes as soon as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2393/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Neasa Hourigan

Ceist:

301. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Education her plans to implement the summer programme previously known as July provision as a matter of urgency for children with disabilities in view of recent Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2432/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

312. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Education if she will review correspondence (details supplied); if she will respond to the concerns outlined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2540/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

315. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education when a primary school (details supplied), which has two autism spectrum disorder, ASD, classes ready to reopen will be permitted to reopen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2679/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Cian O'Callaghan

Ceist:

320. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Education if she is prioritising school reopenings for students with additional educational needs in mainstream schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2788/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Robert Troy

Ceist:

323. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education if consideration will be given to reopening special schools, given that children with special needs require a suite of options available to them to support their needs (details supplied). [2873/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Robert Troy

Ceist:

324. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education if consideration will be given to reopening special schools, given that children with special needs require a suite of options available to them to support their needs (details supplied). [2874/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Gary Gannon

Ceist:

327. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Education the provision that has been made to ensure that students with disabilities in mainstream and special schools can access online learning while schools are closed. [2936/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 279, 280, 288, 297, 299, 301, 312, 315, 320, 323, 324 and 327 together.

I am very disappointed that work to support children with complex needs at this difficult time has not been able to proceed. Over the past year, we have all seen how vital in-person education is for children with complex needs.

This matter has been highlighted not only by the families of the children themselves, but also by all the partners in education and representative groups, in regular meetings with me and my officials. Everyone recognises that distance learning does not work for every child.

Recent weeks have seen intense and regular engagement with partners to seek a solution to our shared objective to support children with complex needs return to in-school learning, could be reached.

My Department sought to agree an approach balancing the need to support our most vulnerable children while addressing the issues raised by trade unions and school management bodies.

These included requests for clear messaging around public health to be given directly to their members by Public Health specialists, temporary arrangements during the current phase of reopening for high risk staff and for those experiencing childcare difficulties.

In response my Department set out to the unions how it these concerns would be addressed. This included:

- Temporary flexible accommodations to work remotely or carry out duties where they are not in close contact or providing personal care

- Temporary waivers to notice periods around parental leave and unpaid leave schemes

- Speedy turnaround for applications through the National Childcare scheme with subsidies for full time childcare available

- A webinar to address public health concerns was held by the Deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn and senior public health consultants which was directly accessible through online streaming to all education sector staff

Public Health Officials reaffirmed clearly that schools with risk mitigation measures in place provide a safe environment for staff and children.

While the general public heath advice is that people stay at home, this does not apply to workers providing an essential service like teachers and SNAs.

In this context it is considered that schools could reopen for just over 23,000 children with SEN (or just 4% of those who would attend during a full re-opening). These children are those who experience the greatest difficulty benefitting from remote learning.

Despite this there is still no commitment from the primary teacher and SNA trade unions, INTO and FORSA, to advise their members to commence the limited return of in-person learning for children with special educational needs.

I will continue to pursue every avenue to ensure that children with complex needs can return to in-person learning as immediately as possible and I will continue to engage with stakeholders on the issue.

In the interim I am confident that schools will continue to make significant efforts to provide effective remote learning experiences for these children.

My Department has issued updated guidance on continuity of schooling: supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs (with separate guidance for mainstream primary/special schools and for post-primary schools).

This outlines that teachers in special schools and special classes should make every effort to maintain regular contact with all of their pupils, and where appropriate, make provision for one-to-one online supports.

Extensive support and advice for schools regarding the provision of distance learning is also available through the Department’s support services and agencies including for those pupils with special educational needs.