No more snow days: School would continue remotely under reform plans

Plan tabled by Department of Education in return for public service pay rises

Children play in the snow in Sandymount, Dublin, February 2018. Photograph: Frank Miller

Children play in the snow in Sandymount, Dublin, February 2018. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

An end to school closures for snow, bad weather and other unexpected reasons may be on the cards, the Department of Education has signalled.

The department wants technology similar to that pioneered during the Covid-19 crisis to be used by teachers and special needs assistants to provide remote learning and supports to children in such circumstances.

The proposed reforms are set out in a new action plan that is linked to the public service pay agreement reached between the Government and trade unions in December.

The plan calls for primary and secondary school teachers as well as special needs assistants to “work with the department to support the use of technology to the greatest extent possible to maintain teaching and supports to children in unexpected closures (weather etc) on a remote basis”.

School closures for several months during pandemic lockdowns saw teachers using a range of new distance-learning methods, including live online classes and online tools and learning apps.

As part of new proposals on work practice reforms, the department also wants more efficiency for State exams. This would see oral and practical elements of Leaving and Junior Cert exams take place outside school time and an increase in the number of teachers acting as correctors, superintendents and examiners.

Conditional deal

The department also wants to look at moving professional development for primary and secondary teachers outside school hours and online, according to the proposals published last night.

The changes could see primary teachers being allowed to move to post-primary schools at the qualified rate in special education settings.

The public service pay deal will see teachers get 1 per cent in October 2021 and a further 1 per cent in October 2022. However, one of the conditions of the pay deal is that progress be made on agreed action plans, the department said.

Similar reform plans for the civil service and the child and family agency Tusla have been published, and proposals for other parts of the public service are due shortly.

The plan also proposes that educators would co-operate more with curriculum reform in primary and post-primary as well as with reforms in the further education sector.

For second-level teachers, the department’s plan is to seek “co-operation with continued implementation of the framework for junior cycle”.

“This will incorporate subject learning and assessment review meetings taking place at a time which does not impinge on a teacher’s contact time with students nor necessitate additional expenditure to the allocation already provided for professional time for teachers.”

For staff in education and training boards and further education, the new plan proposes the reassignment of personnel to new roles as a result of new technology or due to changes in business and operational practices.