Schools may not cut Easter Holidays over snow closures

Official guidance allows schools to shorten holidays to make up for lost tuition time

Pupils enjoy a snow day off school. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Pupils enjoy a snow day off school. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

 

Schools will not cut short their Easter holidays to make up for lost time as a result of closures linked to snow and ice this week, according to senior education sources.

Instead, most schools will seek to complete the curriculum by prioritising tuition, cancelling school tours or ensuring Junior and Leaving Cert students attend all classes to the end of May.

Many schools across the State have lost up to a week of tuition in the current academic year due to snow and ice this week and disruption linked to Storm Ophelia last October.

Department of Education guidance for schools, in relation to making up for time lost due to unforeseen closures, gives schools significant flexibility in making up tuition hours.

An official circular provides a range of examples for how time can be made up, such as curtailing non-tuition activities.

School authorities are also advised to identify any available “discretionary days”, where schools had planned to close, that could be made available to make up for time lost.

However, if these measures are not sufficient, the circular states the Easter break may be reduced by up to three days.

While all schools are due to close for two weeks over the Easter holidays – from Friday, March 23rd – the circular provides for them to remain open until Wednesday, March 28th if required.

However, it adds that school authorities must also take into account the need to “provide adequate notice of any changes to the school calendar to pupils, parents and staff”.

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A number of well-placed sources said on Thursday that cutting short Easter holidays at such short notice was not a realistic option, given that holiday plans may already have been made by many teachers and students.

“Easter is right in on top of us now and there’s no guarantee that we’d have teacher staff available at such short notice,” said one school manager.

Unions

Another commented that any attempt to cut short holidays at this stage would likely attract strong opposition from teachers’ unions.

All schools across the State are set to remain closed on Thursday and Friday of this week, following Government advice, with most set to reopen on Monday.

The largest second-level school management organisation said voluntary secondary schools will take steps to ensure students do not lose out.

“At a local level, schools and teachers will ensure that all students are properly prepared for the exams,” said John Curtis, the Joint Managerial Body (JMB) general secretary.

Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the umbrella body for more than 200 State secondary schools, said schools were prepared to go the “extra mile” for their students.

“Schools will respond in their own way depending on the local needs, but we should remember that teaching staff are extremely dedicated, especially in ensuring exam-year pupils are ready,” said Michael Moriarty, the ETBI’s general secretary.

The Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) said it was up to individual boards of management to determine the steps needed, given the impact on teaching and learning.

The organisation’s president Antoinette Nic Gearailt said that while many schools were due to have a couple of half-days to allow for child protection training, it was advising schools and teachers to use the shutdown period to catch up with this training online.

This, she said, could avoid the need for half-days in the remainder of the academic year.

Many teachers, meanwhile, have been providing work at home for students online during the school closures.

John Gavin, an Irish teacher at a secondary school in Limerick, said he was providing “webinars” of his classes online for students.

He said online learning management systems, such as Edmodo and Moodle, allow teachers to share video tutorials and assignments for classes.

“Essentially, I’ll be delivering classes online – it’s just the class won’t be physically there with me. . . They shouldn’t miss out on anything,” Mr Gavin said.