Pupils at risk of learning loss to receive extra teaching hours

Department hopes €50m catch-up initiative will make up for disruption linked to Covid

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to bring a memo to Cabinet detailing the new scheme called Class – Covid-19 Learning and Support Scheme. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to bring a memo to Cabinet detailing the new scheme called Class – Covid-19 Learning and Support Scheme. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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Thousands of pupils at risk of learning loss due to school closures are to receive extra teaching hours over the coming months.

Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to bring a memo to Cabinet detailing a planned new Department of Education scheme called Class – Covid-19 Learning and Support Scheme.

Under the €50 million initiative, every school is due to receive an allocation of additional teaching hours, which they may use in accordance with the needs of their students.

Department of Education officials say this will enable schools to identify students most at risk of learning loss arising from the recent disrupted school experience and put in place targeted teaching supports to meet these students’ needs.

Schools will receive their additional teaching allocations based on the number of pupils enrolled.

Enhanced allocations will be provided for special schools and disadvantaged or Deis schools.

Research indicates that the most vulnerable pupils – such as children from poorer backgrounds – have experienced the steepest learning losses of all.

The loss of structure and routine has been especially damaging for those with special or additional needs, according to studies.

The new programme also provides for what officials call “shared learning opportunities” between schools to ensure that good practice in meeting students’ needs and mitigating learning loss is shared and replicated.

Fresh research

The department is also planning to undertake fresh research into the impacts of the disruption to learning and the student experience of Covid-19 across a range of areas, and on the impact of the mitigation measures undertaken under this programme.

The Government has faced calls from Opposition parties such as Labour in recent months to do more to provide targeted support to children at risk.

Department officials, however, say they have responded with an expanded “catch-up” programme during the summer which provided support for tens of thousands of children with special needs and disadvantaged students, and now this latest programme.

The total cost of these catch-up initiatives to date is set to climb above €100 million.

The summer programme, which ran in primary and secondary schools, aimed to support pupils to re-engage with education, build their confidence and boost their wellbeing. Eligibility criteria was extended for the summer programme to include second-level students with complex needs and children at risk of educational disadvantage.

Prior to this, summer programmes were available only to special schools and pupils in special classes in primary schools and in disadvantaged or Deis schools.

Total eligibility increased four-fold, up from 23,000 pupils last year to 81,000 this year.

All primary schools had the opportunity to provide a two-week summer programme for mainstream pupils with complex needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage.