The Government is planning “summer school” for thousands of less well off children and those with additional needs.
The move forms part of a catch-up programme for children who have faced disruption due to Covid-19. The summer provision programme is likely to provide at least 40 hours or four weeks of in-school or home support for children with special and additional needs. Moreover, many disadvantaged – or Deis – schools ran numeracy, literacy and wellbeing programmes for at-risk students in advance of the new school year.
A total of 14,000 students took part in an expanded €15 million summer programme last year out of a total of estimated 24,000 who were eligible. Most took part in home-based programmes, followed by home-based support and a Health Service Executive scheme.
A spokesman for Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said the summer 2021 programme is being developed and the details of how it will operate will be worked through with education partners over coming months.
Advocacy groups for children say the scheme should be expanded significantly this year in light of the disruption to the school year.
AsIAm, the autism charity, said the duration of the programme should be doubled from 40 to 80 hours.
"In light of the decision not to prioritise the return of children with additional needs in mainstream classes, and given the loss of learning, we think it is imperative that Minister Madigan confirm that the programme will be expanded," said AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris.
He said while last year’s programme suffered from late planning and poor communication, there is time to devise an expanded scheme which operates in the community.
“The department must also creatively explore how to get more schools – primary and secondary – to offer the programme in schools or in small groups this year,” added Mr Harris.
Separately, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said the pace of the phased reopening of schools will depend on the public health situation being "adjudicated" on.
She also confirmed that any decision on the closure of schools in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19 will be determined by public health experts. No school community or school management would have to make such a decision.
There have been calls, meanwhile, for air quality monitors to be used in classrooms to monitor air quality and protect teachers and pupils when schools reopen next Monday.
Orla Hegarty, a lecturer in architecture, planning and environmental policy, said while these monitors would not measure the virus, they would record the amount of stale air in a room.
Many operate on a traffic light system which show air quality levels in real time.
An Irish start-up technology firm said trials of its air monitors in three Dublin schools between October and December found “dangerous” levels of CO2.
ZiggyTec, based in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, said HSE guidelines recommend an upper limit of 800ppm (parts per million) of CO2. But it said limits in the three schools were breached more than 80 per cent of the time during school hours, with average C02 values of 1,062ppm. The maximum level recorded was 3,803ppm.
Public health authorities have said these measures are not necessary at this time and have advised schools to keep windows fully open during break times and at the end of the school day, and partially open when classrooms are in use.