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Schools to stay closed until February, but Leaving Cert students allowed to attend class three days per week

Leaving Cert students should continue to attend school for three days a week from 11 January.

Minister for Education Norma Foley
Minister for Education Norma Foley
Image: Maxwells Dublin

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY schools will to remain closed until at least February, the Taoiseach has announced. 

There will be exceptions made for Leaving Cert students and certain special needs education. 

The government had previously delayed the re-opening of schools after the Christmas break until Monday 11 January.

However, that has now been pushed back further as daily Covid-19 cases have reached new highs in recent weeks.

How long wills schools remain closed?

Schools will definitely remain closed until 31 January with a review of the measures due on 30 January. Some government sources state that that schools could remain closed for longer if Covid case numbers do not fall significantly in the next three weeks. 

What are the exceptions?

There will be two exemptions to the closures – special education should remain open with protections in place, and Leaving Cert students will have three days of classes per week. 

“This has been a difficult decision,” the Taoiseach said today.

“Education is the great equalizer, and is the single most important factor in the great progress that this country has made since its foundation.” 

How many days can Leaving Cert students attend class?

Leaving Cert students should continue to attend school for three days a week from 11 January.

Education Minister Norma Foley said schools are safe places, but the measures that are being introduced today are required to minimise the movement of people across the country. 

Will the Leaving Cert takes place in June? 

Education Minister Norma Foley says it is the government’s intention that the State exams will go ahead this year – which is why students will be allowed to attend class.

“I am very conscious, as indeed I believe all of society is, of the importance of delivering the traditional Leaving Certificate exam in June. And for that reason we have been planning in the last while to move in that direction,” said Foley.

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The Taoiseach said it is important to maintain stability in the lives of young people. He said the objective of the restrictions is to reduce mobility in the community, adding that it has been presented to government that schools are safe. 

“It is a shared objective of all that we would achieve the traditional Leaving Certificate,” said Foley. 

What three days should students be in?

Foley said it is entirely at the discretion of the school how the three days might work.

“They can alternate it, it could be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday one week, Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday another week,” said said, adding that the plan is for across the board including Leaving Cert Applied and Leaving Cert Vocational Programme.

What about special education?

Special schools and special classes in specialised settings such as Oberstown and high support special care schools and youth encounter projects will be fully open from 11 January.

What about Higher and adult education?

Higher, further and adult education should remain primarily online.

What about school meals?

Funding for the School Meals Programme will remain in place during the current period of school closures, allowing schools to provide food to children, largely through the home delivery of food parcels by suppliers. 

Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys said she recognised the importance of the school meals programme as a support for school-going children. 

Any other measures?

School transport will be available for all students attending school, while teachers, SNAs and other school staff will be allowed to travel to school as essential workers.

School buildings will be open to allow for staff to facilitate distance learning.

Guidance services and supports will continue to be available to students and can be made available in the manner deemed appropriate by the school. 

What are the unions saying?

In short. They’re not happy. 

Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has expressed serious concern around both the health and safety risks and logistical problems posed by the move. 

The union has said it is completely unacceptable that it was not consulted by the Department and says that engagement on the matter with other education stakeholders and public health representatives is urgently required.  

TUI President Martin Marjoram said the union is gravely concerned by today’s developments.

“This premature decision of Government is deeply damaging to the trust and confidence that has allowed us to keep schools open since September, despite the various problems. Our members do not have trust and confidence that opening schools to Leaving Certificate students as is proposed can be safely achieved under the current circumstances.  

“We are seriously concerned by both the health and safety risks and logistical problems posed by this move at this time,” he said.

The INTO said today’s decision is “rushed and reckless” and undermines the public health objectives.

“From next Monday without necessary preparation time and protections required for staff and students when virtually everyone else in the country was being forced to stay at home in a frantic effort to flatten the curve.

“Special schools, students and staff do not exist in a bubble separate from wider society. The sustainable and safe reopening of these schools and classes should be based on specific health advice, with adequate preparation and a staged reopening.

“The rushed plan as laid out today is reckless and takes unnecessary risks which could easily be avoided. In light of public health advice, it is questionable whether attendance at such premises will be other than minimal,” the INTO said in its statement. 

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