An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD today, Monday 27 July, announced the publication of Reopening Our Schools: The Roadmap for The Full Return to School, along with details of a financial package of over €375 million to support its implementation, following approval by Government.
The roadmap outlines a comprehensive range of measures being provided to support the full reopening of schools in time for the start of the new school year in late August.
The roadmap was developed following intensive engagement with stakeholders from the education sector, including teachers’ unions, representatives of principals and deputy principals, school management bodies, representatives of parents and post-primary students and support staff.
The roadmap and the funding package recognise the challenges faced by schools in ensuring the safe return of over one million students and approximately 100,000 staff in 4,000 schools in the context of COVID-19. It sets out clear plans and practical guidance on the measures schools will need to take to operate safely and minimise the risk of the introduction, or spread, of infection in schools.
The financial package approved by Government to support schools recognises that COVID-19 poses significant challenges with regard to staffing, particularly in regard to replacement of staff, substitution, supervision and the need for wellbeing supports.
The package of €376 million includes:
1. Plans for an additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level at a cost of €53 million, to include the following measures:
- 120 guidance posts will be provided to support student wellbeing
- An initial allocation of over 600 posts to be made available to post-primary schools
- Remaining posts will be used to support those post-primary schools. experiencing particular difficulties to reopen fully and adhere to physical distancing and class sizes.
2. Additional funding, estimated at €84.7 million, so that schools can employ replacement teaching staff, SNA and administrative staff. This can occur where staff members who are identified in line with HSE guidance as at ‘very high risk’ of Covid-19 are advised to cocoon.
3. Additional funding of €41.2 million, to provide primary schools with substitute staff. This will provide more certainty on the availability of substitutes for primary schools and cover substitutions that are not covered by existing schemes, as well as where staff members who display symptoms cannot come to work in the school, in line with public health advice.
4. An estimated additional cost of €40m to provide post-primary schools with additional supervision of students. This will be a key control measure to support schools to minimising interaction of students from different classes, in line with public health advice.
5. An additional €52 million for schools to put in place enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools. This is being provided on a per-pupil basis and is intended to allow an additional four to six hours cleaning per day in schools.
6. Provide all teaching principals at primary level with a minimum of one release day per week to relieve the administrative burden arising from the changes and the impacts of Covid-19 and a new measure to provide deputy principals with some release days, ranging from 5 days to 16 days depending on the school size, to support administrative principals.
7. A €75 million capital allocation to support schools to prepare their buildings and classrooms for reopening including an uplift for schools with SEN pupils.
8. €4.2 million to enable schools to employ an aide to implement the logistical changes needed in schools – moving furniture, changing classroom layouts, set up hand sanitising stations, signage etc.
9. €3.8m to provide release time for each school to have a lead worker representative, whose role is to support the school to manage the risk of COVID-19 infections.
The plan and its accompanying documentation provides schools with guidance on training, checklists for schools on preparing for reopening and guidance for operating the school safely in a Covid-context. It advises on areas across logistics, curriculum, teaching, managing school activities, supporting pupils with additional needs, administration and wellbeing.
Minister Foley said: “This is a comprehensive plan that will support our schools to reopen for the new school year.
“We have worked extremely hard to develop plans that not only provide certainty to schools as to what they need to do, but that are meaningful, practical, and realistic. These have been informed by the expertise and collaboration of the stakeholders, and truly take account of how schools operate on a day-to-day basis. I want to thank everyone involved for the huge commitment in bringing this vast amount of work together.
“There is a strong emphasis in the roadmap on safety, and on practical arrangements, but also on ensuring the wellbeing of the students and of the entire staff community.
“I am deeply conscious that children and young people have had their learning disrupted due to the global pandemic. So many of our teachers, our school staff and our parents and students went far beyond their normal roles to keep teaching and to provide learning experiences to students. It was an enormously challenging time.
“Our schools now face another challenge, to support our students to return to and stay in school safely, to re-engage them and support them to settle in, and progress in their learning.
“I know well the calibre of the teachers and the staff teams in the schools across the country. I am confident that the measures we have put in place will equip those teams with the additional knowledge, practical supports and resources that they will need to do that.
“I have today written to all members of school staff and to parents, thanking them for the roles they are playing and will continue to play as we return at the end of August. We will continue to communicate with schools and through them with parents and students, as schools return, and keep a close eye to ensure that the supports are working as they should.
“I am delighted we have been able to secure such a comprehensive package of support, which will ensure that at the end of August we will once again hear the joy and laughter of children and young people in our schools.”
Roadmap emphasis on safety and wellbeing
The Department of Education has prepared a suite of support materials for schools, including guidance on curriculum, wellbeing of students, wellbeing of staff as well as protocols for minimising the risk of spread of infection in schools.
Online ‘Return to Work’ training will be provided for all members of school staff, with separate components for teaching staff, SNAs, administrative and cleaning staff.
In addition to the guidance on supporting wellbeing in schools on returning, a suite of supports for school staff will also be provided to schools by the National Educational Psychological Service in conjunction with the Department’s support services and with the HSE and Tusla Education Support Service.
Measures supporting special schools and classes for children with special educational needs
The Department of Education is also making additional provision for special schools and special classes, in recognition of the particular challenges that these schools and classes will face dealing with children with complex medical and care needs.
Minister Madigan said: “This plan provides great certainty on how schools will be able to operate to support students with special educational needs. Parents, teachers and SNAs can be assured that all appropriate measures will be taken to secure the safety and wellbeing of the children, while ensuring their education can continue.
“We know that these pupils have been impacted greatly by not being in a regular routine of school, and that they will need particular support at the time of transition back to school.
“I am pleased to have secured a dedicated suite of actions in the area of special education, recognising the additional needs and vulnerabilities that children face. There will be additional funds for Special Schools and mainstream schools with special classes to support them in re-opening fully. This includes making sure that all SNA absences are fully covered so that children with complex needs receive the support that they require. There will also be funding for enhanced cleaning and additional support staff in schools.
“I am also particularly pleased that the government has supported the introduction of 1,200 guidance posts into our schools, to support the wellbeing of all students, particularly those with additional needs.
“The expansion of the National Educational Psychological Service to include 17 new psychologist posts is another immensely positive step and will be of enormous benefit to students with additional needs.
“I’ve seen at first hand the benefits of the summer provision programme for students, and the students. This package is immensely practical, it has workable solutions that have been worked out by those who know the systems best, and will support schools to make that transition back for every child.
“As Minister with responsibility for special education, I will continue to advocate for the needs of children and their families. I am very conscious of the needs of children at very high risk and will work with colleagues across the system to ensure that they can continue to make progress, though they may not be able to return to school in the same way as others.”
The specific measures include:
- The Minor Works Grant at primary and post-primary level will include enhanced rates for students in special classes and schools. This will support schools to undertake works that are needed to facilitate reopening.
- Additional per capita funding being provided for pupils in special schools and special classes recognises the additional needs that these pupils have and the additional measures that schools may be required to take to support them.
- Special schools will receive funding equivalent to 10 days, for the purposes of employing an aide to assist with the logistics for preparing for reopening.
- Schools with special classes where there is a teaching principal will now receive a minimum of one release day per week. Those schools with administrative deputy principals will be provided with 16 release days to support the principal.
- All special schools will benefit from the replacement of all absences of SNAs in school settings.
- Enhanced COVID-19 rates are payable in respect of students attending special schools and special classes attached to mainstream schools to assist with the extra costs associated with the cleaning of classrooms in these settings.
- Additional funding will be provided to cater for costs related to hand hygiene measures and PPE requirements.
The plan recognises that some children who have complex medical or special educational needs may not be able to return to school at the end of August because the relevant public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.
Schools will have discretion to manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of these students.
The Department has worked closely with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST) on supporting schools in mediating the curriculum for the new school year and has produced a number of guidance documents to support schools at both primary and post-primary.
At primary level the purpose of the guidance documents is to ensure that pupils/students can settle back into school, that all of the school community can stay safe and well and pupils/students can pick up and progress their learning, experiencing as full and enjoyable a curriculum as possible. The guidance also outlines the learning approaches which schools should take and the need to allow for revisiting and revising of areas of the curriculum to reinforce and consolidate learning.
It is recognized that pupils with SEN will require particular support at the time of transition back to school including supporting their wellbeing, reducing potential anxiety and planning learning experiences that take account of the effect of school closures on their progress.
A number of document and supports have also been produced to support post primary school with specific focus on transition to post-primary, students facing assessment in 2021, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Transition Year (TY).
Additional funding through the Hand Sanitiser and PPE Grant
The financial package does not include grants that will be provided to schools to fund any hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment as a public procurement process has not yet been finalised. When the procurement process is complete, and the drawdown framework is in place in early August, the additional funding to schools to obtain hand sanitiser and other PPE to support reopening and the 2020/21 school year will be advised directly to schools. Accompanying guidelines to schools on accessing the drawdown framework will also issue in early August.
School Transport Scheme services operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department will fully operate as normal, in line with public health advice, when schools re-open for the 2020/2021 school year.
In planning for normal resumption of school transport services consideration has been taken of the fact that school transport somewhat differs to public transport in that:
- School transport services are controlled environments.
- Each transport service carries the same children on a daily basis to their school of attendance.
- It is a restricted group of transport users which will facilitate contact tracing if required.
Observing hygiene requirements will be a key priority and clear communication to all parents of children or to older students using school transport services will set out the following requirements for those travelling on school transport:
- Not to use school transport if they are displaying symptoms.
- To maintain physical distancing while waiting for transport.
- To always sit in pre-assigned seating and next to a sibling or child from their class group (this should be the same child at all times).
- To use hand sanitiser on boarding the bus.
- To observe respiratory etiquette at all times while waiting for and on-board transport services.
- To disembark the bus one by one in an orderly fashion; and
- With the exception of those children who for medical or special educational needs reasons are not in a position to wear a facemask or face covering, all other students travelling on the post-primary scheme are required to wear facemasks while waiting for and on-board transport services.
Additional funding of €11.3 million has been provided as part of the package today to support hygiene, PPE and cleaning requirements.
The Department of Education has published a range of documents today as part of the overall suite, including Returning to School guidance on learning and school programmes for both primary and post-primary school leaders and teachers, a Circular on funding and staffing arrangements to apply in schools for the 2020/21 school year and specific guidance for schools in relation to Transition Year and Leaving Cert Applied programmes.
The Department is putting in place a dedicated team to support schools in applying the new arrangements in relation to Minor Works Grants, additional staffing, replacement staffing, and substitution.
A helpline number and email is being provided directly to school principals to address queries and to support schools in their planning for reopening.