Facemasks on buses and changes to exams: Government announces school reopening roadmap 3 months ago

Facemasks on buses and changes to exams: Government announces school reopening roadmap

"... at the end of August we will once again hear the joy and laughter of children and young people in our schools.”

The government today published the long-awaited Roadmap for the Full Return to School, which will see secondary and primary schools reopening in the Republic of Ireland at the end of August.

Schools here have been closed since mid-March as a precautionary measure to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, and, unlike other European countries, did not reopen before the summer break.

The roadmap was announced by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan at Dublin Castle this evening following sign-off from cabinet earlier in the day.

Social distancing

In terms of maintaining social distancing in schools, there will be no prerequisite for any distancing to take place for roughly half of all primary school students.

Pupils in Junior Infants through to Second Class will not be required to social distance, with a "pod" system in operation within class groups to limit interactions. There will be no minimum or maximum number in these pods, and there will be one metre between each of these pods within classrooms.

For Third Class through to Sixth Class, and for all secondary level students, one metre social distancing will be required and classrooms will be required to be arranged in such a manner as to facilitate this.

Curriculum changes

The roadmap also takes into consideration that students have been out of the classroom for a sustained period, and reflects the potential disparity that may exist in some students' experiences of remote learning compared to others.

Primary School

At primary school level, there will be a focus on welcoming Junior Infants to schools, as well as allowing for revisiting and revising of areas of the curriculum, considering the long break.

There will also be a focus in the initial weeks of the new school year on areas such as SPHE, PE, Language and Maths.

Post-Primary School

There will be no blanket changes to the curriculum in subjects on a national level, as different schools will have approached subjects in different ways, focusing on certain areas first, while other schools may not have covered these. As a result, curriculums will not be reduced.

However the Department of Education is looking at assessment arrangements for incoming Third and Sixth Year students, to see what flexibilities can be brought in to allay the loss of learning. This is likely to be some combination of greater choice in exam papers, including additional questions and/or a change in mandatory sections on written examination papers in next year's Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate exams.

The dates on which coursework briefs for practical subjects are published, as part of continuous assessment, will be brought forward to allow additional preparation time, and there may also be adjustments to practical exams in these subjects.

At Junior Cycle, the number of CBAs, or Classroom Based Assessments, in Third Year has been reduced and the dates of completion for those that would have been completed in Second Year have also been brought into the new school year.

A detailed list of these changes will be published before schools return at the end of August.

Managing outbreaks

Central to the roadmap is the provision that no person, student or staff, should attend school if they or any of their household are displaying any symptoms of Covid-19.

If someone is a suspected case while in a school, they will be brought to a designated isolation area in the school via a specific route and their parents/guardians will be contacted (if a student). The person will be facilitated by the school in remaining in isolation if they cannot return home immediately.

Contact tracing, if required, will be undertaken by HSE Public Health, who will inform any staff/parents who came into close contact with a diagnosed case of the virus, and will carry out a risk assessment on a case-by-case basis before advising the school on the appropriate action to be taken.

Financial provisions

The extensive financial package announced by government this evening will amount to over €375 million, which is envisioned will assist schools in implementing the requirements for a safe return to schools.

This includes €53 million for additional teaching posts, including guidance posts to support student wellbeing, €84.7 million for replacement teaching staff, including SNAs and administrative staff, €41.2 million for primary schools to provide substitute staff, €40 million for post-primary schools to provide additional supervision of students to ensure limited interaction of students from different classes.

There will also be €52 million available to put in place enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures which amounts to an additional four to six hours cleaning per day in schools, a €75 million capital allocation to support schools in preparing buildings for the reopening and €4.2 million to enable schools to employ an aide to implement changes such as moving furniture, changing classroom layouts and setting up hand sanitising stations.

Teacher recruitment

Part of the roadmap sees an accommodation for 1,080 additional secondary school teachers. Minister Foley said there was a general "call-out" to the some 2,000 teachers currently on the Teaching Council register here who are not teaching in the state currently.

The Teaching Council will also undertake a "broad campaign" to recruit these teachers, as well as relaxing the current restrictions on those job-sharing to teach extra hours.

Minister Foley also referred specifically to teachers who may have been teaching abroad in recent years who have returned recently and may not wish to teach overseas in the current set of circumstances.

At primary school level, the Department is also extending the current pilot supply panels on a nationwide basis for the 2020/21 school year, which will involve the additional allocation of 200 teaching posts.

Minister Foley said there is "no shortage" of primary school teachers available for work.

School Transport

School Transport Scheme services operated by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department will fully operate as normal, in line with public health advice, when schools re-open for the 2020/2021 school year.

Additional provisions to ensure safety on these buses will include students sitting in pre-assigned seats, next to a sibling or the same child from their class group every day, wearing of face coverings where students are over the age of 13 and able to wear on and to use hand sanitiser when boarding the bus

Additional psychological supports

The National Educational Psychological Services (NEPS) will see its cohort of 204 psychologists increased by 17 new positions to increase contact with schools and to provide support to both students and staff as they return to school.

NEPS have also developed a range of teaching materials and webinars for staff to assist in the return, as well as to promote both student and staff wellbeing.

PPE

As per public health guidelines, students under the age of 13 will not be required to wear face coverings during the return to school.

Department officials said students over this age will need to wear face coverings while on public transport to and from school, in line with current public health advice.

The wearing of PPE will not be a general requirement for staff, although certain circumstances where social distancing is not possible, such as the work of SNAs or staff attending to students with intimate care needs, may require staff to wear a visor, not a face covering, as recommended by the Department.

Extra-curricular activities

PE will be able to continue for all students, and more information and guidance will be made available to schools in the coming weeks, prior to reopening, as to how this can be achieved in as safe a measure as possible.

In terms of sport, and a wider range of extra-curricular activities, which tend to involve schools and students coming into contact with one another, Department officials said schools will need to be guided by return-to-play protocols already in place in individual sports, and school-specific guidances and practices will need to be put in place.

Covid training

As has been the case across all workplaces, all school staff will undergo mandatory Covid-19 training before returning to work.

Within schools, there will also be a Lead Worker Representative appointed in each school, who will report any concerns from staff to management, as well as being a direct point of contact for staff who have Covid-specific concerns within schools.

Speaking at Dublin Castle earlier, Minister Foley said the plan ensures the return of schools in a safe manner and allows students to enjoy the benefits of education in a social setting.

“I am delighted we have been able to secure such a comprehensive package of support, which will ensure that at the end of August we will once again hear the joy and laughter of children and young people in our schools.”