Schools receive guidance for emergency remote teaching

Department says schools will reopen as usual in January with no closures planned

Secondary schools have received new guidance on “emergency remote teaching and learning” in the event of closures triggered by the spread of coronavirus.

The correspondence has prompted concern among some Opposition TDs about whether schools will close in January.

However, a spokesman for Minister for Education Norma Foley said schools are reopening on January 6th and public health advice remains that schools are safe settings.

The 15-page document circulated to schools said it is designed to provide guidance for schools in situations where a partial or full school closure is advised by public health/HSE because of a case or cases of the virus.


It outlines a number of possible scenarios which could occur during the 2020/21 school year.

They include a student being absent for a few days for medically certified coronavirus reasons; a full class group being advised to self-isolate; or an entire school being required to close for public health reasons.


“As the extent to which these scenarios may be required cannot be predicted, it is possible that individual or groups of students and teachers may find that they are advised to self-isolate or restrict their movements on a number of occasions during the 2020-21 school year.

“This may lead to an accumulation of a significant number of days where students learn and teachers work from home. Therefore, it is crucial that all schools make every effort to enable teachers to support the continuation of students’ learning effectively during each possible scenario.

“This is particularly important in the context of students at risk of early school leaving, students with special educational needs and students at risk of educational disadvantage.”

One Department of Education source said a similar document was issued to primary schools a month ago and the secondary school document was delayed due to the need to finalise technical details.

It was not in response to a rise in cases, the source said, or concerns over the potential closure of schools.

However, Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said the circulation of the email, along with comments from chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan warning of the implications of a spike in Covid-19 for education, will raise concerns among families over potential school closures.

"Families want schools to remain open. Tony Holohan today on Morning Ireland recognised the huge efforts that the people of Ireland made during the second wave, which ensured that education could be maintained and students could continue to go to school," Mr Ó Laoghaire said.

“But with the recent rise in Covid-19, families have been in contact with me concerned that schools might not reopen in January. This would be extremely detrimental to students and their learning.

“Schools have received an email today outlining the need to prepare for remote learning. I also note that for the first time in a long time, the CMO raised a question regarding restrictions on education.”

He added: “We need Minister Foley to reassure families and staff of what is being done to make schools safer, and to set out what is the threshold at which the infection would have to be at for schools to have to close.”

Safe places

Ms Foley said on Thursday that schools will not close early before Christmas or open late in January because they remain safe places for children.

Latest figures show a total of 62 virus cases were found in schools in the State last week, following mass testing in a number of them, with 3.5 per cent of the samples taken proving positive, compared to 10 to 12 per cent in the wider community.

Saying that three-quarters of schools have not had any issues at all since the reopening in September, the Minister said “tremendous work” has been done by school staff and students.

Ruling out calls for an early closure and for an extra week after Christmas, the Minister said there are no public health grounds for schools to remain closed for longer than is planned.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent