Leaving Cert pupils back in class by February 1st is priority – Foley

Talks ongoing with unions on reopening of special needs schools and tuition next Thursday

Minister for Education Norma Foley has reiterated that it is her priority to get Leaving Certificate students back in class by February 1st.

Speculation has mounted that mainstream schools may not be back in operation until the end of February, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place at Level 5 until after the mid-term break.

But sources close to the Minister said on Sunday night she is aware there are many different voices with differing views. “She will listen to and consider all that, but her priority is to get the Leaving Certs back for February 1st.”

Hospital Report

There will be continued engagement, and decisions will be based on public health advice.

Separately, talks are ongoing with unions about the reopening of special needs schools and special needs tuition in mainstream schools next Thursday.

A children’s rights solicitor representing 80 children in 14 counties is to write to unions and to the Minister warning them of their legal obligation to uphold the constitutional rights of children with special needs to an education.

Gareth Noble of KOD Lyons said remote learning does not uphold their constitutional rights as it is unsuitable as a form of education for them.

Mr Noble said trade union Fórsa, which represents 12,000 special needs assistants, is “correctly facilitating 15,000 adults in day services” and should put a similar plan together to enable children with special needs to have their educational requirements met. He added there were 18,000 children in special classes, representing 2 per cent of the overall school population.

Online seminar

More than 5,000 special needs teachers and assistants are expected to attend an online seminar on Monday with the deputy chief medical officer and senior HSE officials on public health and a return of special needs schools and tuition for children with special needs in mainstream schools.

"We hope that that will improve the level of confidence in returning at the end of next week and our executive committee for education will meet and review the issue on Tuesday evening," said Andy Pike of Fórsa. He said issues such as childcare for members had not yet been resolved.

The Department of Education said there are still “a couple of things to be hammered out” following continued engagement over the weekend which will continue this week. It was the “shared ambition of all parties” that there would be a return to school on Thursday for students with special needs in primary school, after which there would be further engagement for a return of Leaving Cert students and those with special needs at secondary level.

The INTO central executive council will meet on Monday to review specifics relating to childcare facilities, progress and guidance from the Department of Education for special education staff in high-risk categories, those aged over 60 and pregnant staff, and will consider an update on the prioritisation of special education staff for access to the Covid-19 vaccine.

Separately, the advisory committee on the Leaving Certificate last week held bilateral meetings last week with stakeholder partners and will meet later this week or early next week and consider all proposals and contingency plans around written exams and predictive grading.