Minister outlines task to reopen schools in time for September

Comments dampen call from National Parents’ Council Primary for partial June reopening

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said opening schools needs to be ‘carefully managed’. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said opening schools needs to be ‘carefully managed’. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA

 

Massive logistical work is required in order to reopen schools in time for September, according to Minister for Education Joe McHugh.

Mr McHugh said it was clear that a “one size fits all” approach will not apply because of the diversity of school and education settings.

His comments appear to dampen hopes from parents’ groups who have called for primary schools to be partially reopened in mid-June if it is safe to do so.

Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents’ Council Primary, said a decision to keep schools closed until September was made at a time when public health conditions were worse than they are now.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19 also said it is was time to think about reopening schools in Ireland.

Dr David Nabarro said keeping children home from school for too long can have long-term effects on their development.

Mr McHugh, however, said opening schools needs to be “carefully managed” and planning is under way for the reopening of educational institutions from the beginning of September, in consultation with stakeholders and with regard to the experience of other countries.

During a debate on the impact of the pandemic on education, Mr McHugh said the system had more than one million learners in facilities ranging from small schools to multicampus higher-education institutions that employed more than 110,000 people.

“Managing the reopening of our education system is a massive logistical operation that needs to be carefully planned . . . Given the diversity in school and education settings ‘one size fits all’ will not apply.”

He said schools would require clear guidance and early clarity on key issues so they could start planning at a local level.

Reopening would be based on “ongoing public health advice”. Wider consultation with school transport companies, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Children is also necessary.

The Minister stressed that “our most vulnerable students must, and will, be a focus for our priorities as we plan for the future”.

He said he wanted to see some form of summer provision for students with special needs.

While it may not be possible to deliver the so-called July Provision scheme which benefits thousands of special needs students, he said work is under way on supports in the July-August period delivered by teachers and special needs assistants.

What about the Leaving Cert?

Mr McHugh also announced that detailed guidance will be issued to teachers on Thursday over how to award calculated grades to Leaving Cert students.

He confirmed that this guidance will make clear that a student’s estimated mark should not be based on mock-exam or Junior Cycle results.

Instead, teachers will be asked to grade students on what they would have achieved in the Leaving Cert exam by using their professional judgment based on available evidence.

He also said an alignment process will be applied by the department to ensure there is a standardised process in the way grades are awarded.

Chairwoman of the Teaching Council Dr Áine Lawlor will head an independent steering committee to ensure the integrity of the grading process.

Fianna Fáil spokesman Thomas Byrne said the Minister’s speech showed a “sea change” and demonstrated an openness to consultation and significant engagement.

He also called for additional third-level places to be made available for Leaving Cert students to ensure as many as possible can progress to their chosen course.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire raised concerns that “school profiling” may end up penalising students attending disadvantaged schools by not recognising their true potential.

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