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Education Minister Norma Foley Julien Behal Photography via
covid committee

Education Minister Norma Foley says pupils will get priority testing in event of a Covid-19 outbreak in school

Foley is to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 this afternoon.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Sep 2020

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley has said that priority testing will be provided for school children and teachers where an outbreak of Covid-19 occurs.

The minister made the comments before the Committee on Covid-19 this afternoon, where she discussed the reopening of schools.

Foley told the committee that she had raised the issue of testing with the Department of Health and the HSE.

“Priority testing will be provided where there is an outbreak in a school and schools will be treated no differently to the priority testing that is being provided in other environments where a situation of that nature occurs,” she said.

She added that she understood the “trauma and worry” of families who are in that situation.

Many primary and secondary schools are reopening their doors to staff and students this week following six months of closure.

Politicians also heard that in the event of an outbreak it will “not be automatically assumed” that a whole class will be deemed as close contacts.

Instead close contacts will be directly notified by the HSE and advised to restrict their movements and present for testing on day zero and day seven.

“There is no blanket policy to test entire classes or years,” she said.

“The testing strategy will be aligned to the Public Health Risk Assessment which may recommend widespread swabbing within a class or school under HSE mass testing procedures.”

Opening statement

In her opening statement to the Dáil Covid-19 Committee, Foley discussed the “massive daily logistical undertaking” regarding school transport. 

On 21 August, Foley said it will be “quite a logistical challenge” to provide transport for secondary school students with buses set to run at 50% capacity following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). 

School transport for primary students are unaffected by the latest advice from NPHET. 

It had previously planned to run school buses at full capacity when pupils return this month, but to have students wear face coverings to help stop the spread of Covid-19. 

Foley said up to 1,600 buses are required to ensure secondary school students can get to school, and that the government was working on providing this transport as “quickly as possible”. 

The Education Minister also told the Committee this afternoon that Bus Éireann has advised that in the region of a total of 400 of a total of 2,100 post-primary services are in a position to operate at 50% capacity from the start of this school year, but that this figure is “subject to increase”. 

She said that Bus Éireann has returned to the market, seeking additional operators to provide services.

Responding to queries from Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire, who described it as “chaotic”, Foley said it was proving to be “a massive daily logistical undertaking” and there would be a requirement for an additional 1,600 buses and drivers.

Leaving Cert

Foley also discussed the announcement yesterday in which she confirmed that the past academic performances of schools will not be used to ‘standardise’ this year’s Leaving Cert students’ results

Under the new model, 17% of teacher-predicted grades will be reduced, while 4% will be increased. 

The change agreed yesterday removes the use of school-by-school historical data in the standardisation model. The Department of Education said yesterday that the updated model places a greater emphasis on the estimated marks provided by teachers to students.

Gender and location was also not taken into account when standardising teacher grades.

Foley told the Committee that in making the change, she was “driven by the desire to ensure equity and fairness in the process”. 

 Over the summer, approval was given by government for over €375 million in additional funding necessary to implement the safe return to school. 

Foley said that, to date, the payments made to schools exceed €160 million.

She also discussed a letter and a HSE document titled ‘Schools Pathway for Covid-19, the Public Health Approach’ which was issued to all schools last week setting out the approach to managing isolated confirmed cases of Covid-19 within the school community.

With reporting from Press Association.

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