English language schools: Teachers, students protest reopening of in-person classes

Department says English language schools can opt for blended or online-only learning

English language teachers and students protest re-opening of schools saying it’s ’reckless’ and ’dangerous’. Photograph: Sorcha Pollak

English language teachers and students protest re-opening of schools saying it’s ’reckless’ and ’dangerous’. Photograph: Sorcha Pollak

 

English language school students and teachers have warned that resuming face-to-face classes from Monday, while cases of the Delta Covid-19 variant soar, is “dangerous” and “reckless”.

A small group of protestors marched from the Spire on O’Connell Street to the Department of Education on Monday calling on the Government to keep language schools closed until most students are vaccinated.

Their calls follow the Department of Higher Education’s announcement that English language schools could reopen for in-person classes from July 19th. However, the department stressed providers could “opt to remain closed, to provide blended learning or to continue operating wholly online”.

Fernanada, a former student and now teacher who preferred not to give her surname, said the reopening was “totally unsafe” given the high number of students who are not yet vaccinated. “The people getting infected now are the youngest, it’s the opposite of common sense to re-open. The sector needs to be regulated as well, there are so many problems with these schools already.

“Language students keep the economy going here. We are mainly workers before students serving people. But nobody remembers us, they don’t consider us a priority.”

Fiachra Ó Luain, labour rights officer of the English Language Student’s Union of Ireland (ELSU), stressed that many students on Stamp Two visas have relocated elsewhere and taken up employment outside of Dublin. “We said at least a month’s lead in time was needed and that’s been ignored. [Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris] must postpone all in-person teaching both junior and adult English learning until at least September when staff and students will have had the chance to be vaccinated.”

Students on Stamp Two visas are required to attend a minimum of 85 per cent of their classes. If they fail to do this, they risk not being able to renew their study visa.

Mr Ó Luain says last Monday’s re-opening announcement was “de facto reopening of the sector for international recruitment because there will be no way to stop walk in business. There is still a lack of clarity that if one or a few of the schools reopen will all of the schools lose their CRSS (Covid restrictions support scheme) thus forcing other schools to reopen before they feel comfortable to do so.”

Anne Dunne, who has been an English language teacher since 1979, says smaller schools located in Georgian buildings with narrow corridors and cramped classrooms will be unable to reopen if they want to follow health and safety guidelines. “This means the bigger schools can ask whatever prices they like and pay teachers whatever they want,” she said. “It’s the danger of big business taking over and kicking out all the small schools.”

A Department of Higher Education statement noted that in-person activity could resume from Monday “where it is safe to do so” but only for the “existing cohort of ELE [English Language Education] students currently in the State”.

“There continues to be no basis for the recruitment of new international students that may seek to travel to the State at this time,” it said. “The resumption of in-person activity is subject to there being no deterioration in the public health situation nor changes to public health advice/measures that would impact on this activity.”