Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 482-506
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Staff
 Header Item School Admissions
 Header Item Education Policy
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item School Staff
 Header Item Educational Disadvantage
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Bus Éireann
 Header Item Special Educational Needs
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item School Admissions
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Education Policy
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 1
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 114 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 482-506

Covid-19 Pandemic

 482. Deputy Seán Canney Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if her attention has been drawn to the fact that many substitute teachers will lose out on panel rights due to the ongoing school closures; her plans to address this situation in order that teachers awaiting panel rights are not disadvantaged by school closures due to lockdown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12514/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The core function of the redeployment arrangements is to facilitate the redeployment of all surplus permanent teachers to other schools that have vacancies. Thereafter, schools are required under the panel arrangements to fill permanent vacancies from supplementary panels comprised of eligible fixed-term (temporary/substitute) and part-time teachers.

The criteria, reviewed annually with the Education Partners, are published on the Department website. Circular 78/2020 sets out the arrangements for the Supplementary Panel for the 2021/22 school year.

While school buildings were closed due to COVID-19, schools continued to provide remote learning and substitution for approved leave is permitted during this period.

Special Educational Needs Staff

 483. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she will support making the national training programme for special needs assistants a fully accredited and recognised FETAC level 7 award; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12528/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) play a huge role in helping to ensure the inclusion of pupils with significant care needs in education and in school life. This was acknowledged in the Comprehensive Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme (SNAs) published by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in 2018.

The Review made a number of recommendations regarding SNAs and the need for a more broadly based set of supports including therapeutic supports for pupils with complex needs. The Review also referenced the training needs of SNAs. In this regard, the NCSE recommended that a new national training programme at Level 5 of the National Qualification Framework be developed for existing SNAs who do not have the requisite level of training and for new SNAs on appointment. The NCSE also recommended that training tailored to the specific complex needs of some students being cared for by SNAs would also be provided.

The policy advice has been considered by the Department. It was decided that priority should be given to the development of a training programme for SNAs who may not have had a recent opportunity to access a training programme tailored to their role.

A public procurement competition was held for the development and delivery of a new national training programme for SNAs. A detailed specification of need and learning outcomes was developed and published for the competition. Formal accreditation to the National Qualifications Framework was not a requirement for the programme. The main purpose of the programme was to provide professional development and not the provision of a qualification. Following evaluation of the tenders received, the contract was awarded to University College Dublin (UCD) School of Education, in conjunction with UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems.

UCD has a strong reputation in the world of education and training. It brings with it a wealth of experience and research knowledge in the training and has very strong quality assurance arrangements for its programmes. Feedback from programme participants is a key feature of this quality assurance process.

This new programme aims to enhance the knowledge, skills and expertise of SNAs whose work is central to the inclusion of students with additional care and complex needs in school life.

The programme consists of five modules, delivered online over a 10-month period. Flexibility is a key part of the approach to the delivery of the programme and participation is voluntary.

The programme is fully funded by my Department and delivered at no cost to the SNA.

Completion of the programme may serve as a stepping stone to further education opportunities in the area.

Each participant who completes the programme successfully will receive a certificate from UCD School of Education which may be of assistance in pursuing further education.

€2.45m will be allocated to this programme over the next 4 year period based on a full uptake of 3,500 SNAs. The first cohort of 500 SNAs enrolled in January and this phase was oversubscribed.

This is the first national training programme for SNAs employed in our schools and is tailored to their needs. The programme will be evaluated and the outcome will inform the approach to the training of SNAs in the future.

The Department recognises that a more strategic approach is required for the training of SNAs. This would deal with a number of matters including the identification of need and the provision of appropriate training programmes. The issue of programme accreditation will be considered further in this context. I look forward to its development.

I am satisfied that the new training programme for SNAs now in place is of high quality and will help to enhance the experience of children with special needs in our schools.

School Admissions

 484. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if a school place can be provided in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12540/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley In relation to school admissions, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 . My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking school places in that area.

  Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available the pupil should be admitted. However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process will be necessary.

  The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 act requires schools to clearly set out their selection criteria in their admission policies. Schools have discretion in relation to their admission criteria and how they are applied. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. Nonetheless, where a school is oversubscribed some pupils may not obtain a place in the school.

The Educational Welfare Service of the Child and Family Agency (EWS) is the agency which can assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child. The EWS can be contacted at 01-7718500 for assistance. More information on school attendance is available on their website on the following link: https://www.tusla.ie/tess/tess-ews/.

Education Policy

 485. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne Information on Violet-Anne Wynne Zoom on Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to roll out the in-school and preschool therapy services demonstration project as a national scheme in the future; if so, the areas that will benefit from the next steps; if provision will be made for schools in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12545/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan A demonstration project to provide in-school and pre-school therapy services took place over the course of the 2018/19 school year.

  The project was developed by the Departments of Education, Children and Youth Affairs, Health, and the Health Service Executive and managed and co-ordinated by the National Council for Special Education.

   The purpose of the project was to test a model of tailored therapeutic supports by providing speech and language and occupational therapy within ‘educational settings’. This innovative pilot complemented existing HSE funded provision of essential therapy services.

  The project took place in the Health Service Executive (HSE) Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) 7 Region of South West Dublin, Kildare and West Wicklow.

  75 schools, including a representative sample of primary, post primary, and special schools took part.

  75 Pre-school settings associated with primary schools participating in the project were included.

  In total 150 settings participated in the demonstration project.

  Children who require speech and language therapy services and who are not attending one of the pilot schools continued to access services from the Health Service Executive.

  Children attending pilot schools and who received therapy supports from the HSE also continued to access such services. The in-school therapy model was designed to supplement, not to replace existing services.

  It was designed to provide for a clinical Speech and Language Therapy service delivery model of Specialist, Targeted and universal supports in line with best practice for pupils which will see them receiving supports along a continuum of provision depending on the extent or severity of needs of the child/pupil.    

The project was evaluated over the course of the 2018/19 school year. This evaluation report has now been completed and is available at https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Demo-project-evaluation-fInal-for-web-upload.pdf  

Although initially designed as a one year pilot, a Government decision of 12th   February, 2019, in relation to the Review of the Special Needs Assistant Scheme, also agreed to the establishment of a pilot of a new School Inclusion Model for children with special educational and additional care needs involving up to 75 participating schools in the CHO 7 region over the course of the 2019/20 school year.

  The demonstration project to provide in-school and pre-school therapy services continued, as part of the School Inclusion Model, over the course of the 2019/20 school year.

As all schools closed from 12th   March, 2020, due to the COVID crisis, it was not possible to fully complete the pilot of the School Inclusion Model over the course of the 2019/20 school year.

In order to support the work of the HSE in responding to COVID, the Speech and Language and Occupational Therapists which had been assigned to the School Inclusion Model were recalled to the HSE from 12th March 2020, and continue to remain employed by the HSE.

  Approval has been granted to the NCSE to directly recruit therapists to continue the Pilot of the School Inclusion Model, over the course of the 2020/21 school year, and recruitment of therapists is underway.

  However, as schools were closed for a period since January the project was paused.

  It was also announced that as part of the 2021 Budget measures, that funding is being made available next year to extent the School Inclusion Model (SIM), which includes therapy provision, to two other pilot areas in 2021. Consideration of the areas to which the project can be extended to and the applicable service model is underway.

Schools Building Projects

 486. Deputy Paul Kehoe Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of the progress of a school building project (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12580/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The project to which the Deputy refers has been devolved to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) for delivery as part of a programme of school building projects.

  This school is in the bundle referred to as ‘Project Dargle’. The NDFA is currently preparing for the appointment of a Design Team in respect of this bundle of projects.

  At this early stage, it is not possible to provide a timeline for completion of the project; the NDFA will be engaging directly with the school authority to keep it informed of progress.

Schools Building Projects

 487. Deputy Paul Kehoe Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of a building project for a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12583/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I can confirm to the Deputy that the school referred to has been approved for a project under my Department's Additional Accommodation Scheme 2015. This project will provide for two mainstream classrooms with en-suite, and one WC for assisted users. My Department has also agreed to incorporate a summer works project for an upgrade to the waste water treatment system and the school playground.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department had previously advised that this school was approved to go to Tender. Following this decision, the school confirmed that there were numerous conditions of planning that had not been costed. The school were requested to submit a Stage 2b report with a revised cost plan for assessment. My Department is currently awaiting this documentation which the school has advised will be submitted in the coming weeks.

School Staff

 488. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the scheduled reduction of staffing numbers for the 2022-2023 academic year at a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12602/21]

 489. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan Information on Maurice Quinlivan Zoom on Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she will intervene and reverse the decision to remove the vice-principal position and teaching position in a school (details supplied). [12603/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I propose to take Questions Nos. 488 and 489 together.

The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. The staffing schedule operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally irrespective of location.

Budget 2021 provided for a one point improvement to the staffing schedule for September 2021 and introduces new retention levels for all schools. I have also recently announced a further package of measures, including improved staffing and additional funding for the school completion programme to tackle educational disadvantage in DEIS schools and to assist those students with the highest levels of need to help them reach their potential.

The newly revised staffing schedule for the 2021/22 school year will be published shortly and it is at that stage that schools will be able to establish their staffing for the coming September.

Educational Disadvantage

 490. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she is committed to tackling educational disadvantage as per her press release of 1 March 2021 (details supplied); if so, if she will reverse the decision taken to reduce the staffing numbers for the next academic year at a school; and if not, the reason the school will lose two members of staff at a time when educational support is most needed by its students. [12607/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. The staffing schedule operates in a clear and transparent manner and treats all similar types of schools equally irrespective of location. Budget 2021 provided for a one point improvement to the staffing schedule and introduced new retention levels for all schools. I also recently announced a package of measures, including changes to staffing schedule, and additional funding for the school completion programme to tackle educational disadvantage in DEIS schools.

The newly revised staffing schedule for the 2021/22 school year will be published shortly. It is at that stage that schools will be able to establish their staffing for the coming September.

School Transport

 491. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if the school bus pick-up point at the limited car parking space at Ballykeeffe, Kilkenny, facilitating 27 pupils attending schools in Kilkenny city, and which is considered extremely dangerous and unsafe, will be relocated to a much safer location at the car park Kilmanagh village, Kilkenny; if the matter will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12613/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Bus Éireann is responsible for the planning and timetabling of school transport routes. Bus Éireann endeavours, within available resources, to ensure that each eligible child has a reasonable level of school transport service in the context of the Scheme nationally. Parents are responsible for ensuring that children are brought safely to and collected safely from Bus Éireann designated pick up and set down points.

Bus Éireann has advised that the pick-up point referred to by the Deputy has been assessed as being suitable as a pick-up point under the School Transport Scheme and diverting the service is not possible due to time constraints.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 492. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the rationale behind children in primary schools not being required to wear masks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12676/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department has always been guided by public health advice in relation to the infection prevention and control measure appropriate for schools. While current public health advice makes it a requirement for face coverings to be worn by teachers, non-teaching staff in primary and post primary schools and students attending post primary school, it is not a requirement for children attending primary school to wear face-coverings.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) keep infection prevention and control measures under review in all sectors and have recently confirmed that the wearing of masks by primary school students is not being recommended at this time.

Schools Building Projects

 493. Deputy Duncan Smith Information on Duncan Smith Zoom on Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of a school (details supplied) which is due to open September 2021 and the permanent school which is proposed to be constructed in Corballis, Donabate, County Dublin [12759/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley With regard to the school to which the Deputy refers I can confirm that the school opened in September 2020 in Donabate Portrane Community Centre pending delivery of it's interim accommodation on Portrane Road, Donabate. I can also confirm that the contractor commenced on site on 2 March 2021. The anticipated handover of this interim accommodation is late May 2021.

In regards to a permanent site to cater for the projected demographic growth, the acquisition of a zoned school site at Corballis, Donabate is at an advanced stage of legal conveyancing. Officials from my Department are engaging with the landowner and officials in the relevant local authority regarding the potential development of the site.

I am unable to elaborate any further due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions in general.

My Department's officials have kept the school authority fully briefed in relation to this project.

Bus Éireann

 494. Deputy Johnny Mythen Information on Johnny Mythen Zoom on Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if the policy of Bus Éireann contracts will be examined in relation to the automatic retirement of drivers when they reach 70 years of age (details supplied); if the retirement age of drivers will be extended to 75 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12769/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Under the terms of the scheme, children are eligible for school transport where they reside not less than 4.8kms at post-primary and 3.2kms at primary from and are attending their nearest school/post-primary centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.

It is Bus Éireann policy that the normal retirement age for all staff is currently 66 years. Bus Éireann part-time school bus drivers and drivers nominated by private operators as school bus drivers may continue to perform this role, subject to completing an annual medical examination up to the retirement age of 70 years.

This criteria is applied to all drivers who provide services as part of the School transport scheme that is operated by Bus Éireann, on behalf of the Department of Education. As this age limit has been examined previously and the retirement age extended to 70 years, there are no plans to extend this limit further at this point in time.

  Question No. 495 answered with Question No. 480.

Special Educational Needs

 496. Deputy Réada Cronin Information on Réada Cronin Zoom on Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the accommodations and provisions being made in mainstream secondary education for children with mild to moderate learning disability to return to the mainstream classroom in which they have been thriving; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12781/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I know that a phased re-opening of schools is particularly challenging for many children with special educational needs who have not yet returned to school and their families.

  The purpose of managing this cautious phased return is to continue to limit the mobility of the population and curb the spread of the virus.

  These further phases have been developed in close collaboration with education stakeholders and follow ongoing engagement with the Department of Health and Public Health, HSE.

  There will be a period of time between each phase to assess the impact of reopening on aspects of community transmission. It is not possible for other children to return to in-school provision during this period.

  The phased return of students to in-school education and the associated target dates are as follows

- Monday 1 March   - the first four class groups at primary level – junior and senior infants, first and second class – and final year Leaving Certificate students returned to in-school provision. This phase also saw a return to full attendance for children in special schools, as well as children in early start pre-school classes and early intervention special classes for children with autism or hearing impairment.

- Monday 15 March   - the return to in-school provision of the rest of primary school children – third to sixth class, and fifth year Leaving Certificate students. This date will be reviewed during the period following 1 March.

- Monday 12 April -   the return to in-school education of the rest of post-primary students following the Easter break – i.e. first to fourth year students.

  My Department is anxious to support those pupils/students with SEN who are unable to return to in-school teaching and learning under these phases.

  At Post Primary level in recognition that not all students with complex special education needs will be back in school in this phase, the supplementary programme for eligible students who have not yet returned to in person learning will be extended by a further two weeks (an additional 10 hours, for a total allocation of 30 hours).

School Transport

 497. Deputy Darren O'Rourke Information on Darren O'Rourke Zoom on Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley further to Parliamentary Question 376 of 17 February 2021, if he will provide details of the membership of the steering group; the number of times and dates on which it has met; the terms of reference of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12797/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

  The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

  In October 2019, my predecessor announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to taking a fresh look at the service and its broader effectiveness and sustainability. Given the evolving situation with Covid-19 the work of the Steering Group had been delayed. However, an initial meeting of the Steering Group was held on the 11th of February in order to recommence the process, which will continue over the coming period. The review is being conducted to ensure that the school transport is fit for purpose and that it serves students and their families adequately.

  This review will also build on the proposals in the Programme for Government as they relate to school transport, including examining the options to reduce car journeys and assessing how the School Transport Scheme can work in liaison with the Safe Routes to Schools Programme;   examining the options for providing a better value and a better service for students, including and examining issues such as the nearest or next-nearest school.

  Other issues under consideration include the efficiency of the service and to also examine potential scope for a more co-ordinated approach involving other Government departments involved in transport services.

  The Steering Group comprises representatives from School Transport Section, Special Education Section, Central Policy Unit and Finance Section of the Department of Education, the National Council for Special Education, Bus Éireann, the National Transport Authority, the Department of Transport Tourism and Sport, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

State Examinations

 498. Deputy John Paul Phelan Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if students repeating their leaving certificate in 2021 will be eligible to submit their practical projects for grading in the 2021 exam which were not graded in 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12813/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations.

  In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

State Examinations

 499. Deputy John Paul Phelan Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if measures will be taken for the leaving certificate 2021 to accommodate the needs of students repeating the exams from 2020 that take cognisance of the fact that the 2020 and 2021 academic years have been extraordinary in the context of all previous academic years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12814/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley On 17 February, I confirmed that Leaving Certificate 2021 examinations will proceed and students will also have the alternative option of applying for grades accredited by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), to be known as SEC-Accredited Grades.

  This decision followed intensive engagement with education stakeholders bilaterally and through the Planning for State Examinations 2021 Advisory Group and sub-group.

  This decision ensures for every student a method to assess their learning and attainment at the end of their post-primary education and to progress to higher and further education, and the world of work.

  Putting in place both the examination and a corresponding measure of SEC-Accredited Grades is essential to ensuring a fair system, having regard to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and the loss of learning that has occurred for this group of students due to the interruption of in-person teaching and learning during the periods of school closure.

  Under the SEC-Accredited Grades process, students will have the opportunity to opt to receive an SEC-Accredited Grade. They can also opt to sit the Leaving Certificate Examination. Students will opt into these processes on a subject by subject basis. Where students opt for SEC-Accredited Grades and the examinations they will be credited with the better of their results from the two processes, on a subject by subject basis.

  Last August, I announced a series of changes that would be made to assessment arrangements for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021. This announcement was accompanied by a published document detailing these changes, Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, and forms part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School. On 21 December 2020, my Department published an updated version of the publication which includes clarifications in relation to a number of subjects.

  These arrangements are designed to take account of the disrupted learning experienced by students during the 2019/20 school year and to factor in for some further possible loss of learning time in the 2020/21 school year as a contingency measure. As the loss of learning through school closures affects students’ engagement with their course of study in different ways, the adjustments put in place play to students’ strengths by leaving intact the familiar overall structure of the examinations, while incorporating additional choice. The adjustments were arrived at through discussions between my Department, the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and key stakeholders.

  These changes to the national assessment arrangements were made with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, as these principles apply to assessment and examinations and refer to student to-student, subject-to-subject, and year-to-year comparisons over time. The changes provide reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools.

  The State Examinations Commission also advised schools in December of flexibility being provided for schools and students in the arrangements for the completion and authentication of coursework. The State Examinations Commission provided an update in relation to the arrangements for the delivery of the Leaving Certificate examinations, including an update in relation to coursework, following the announcement by the Government on Wednesday 17 February. That circular is available at https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/EN-EX-94915644.pdf

  In addition to the adjustment to the assessment arrangements for the examinations previously communicated to schools, further adjustments will be made to the written papers. These further adjustments will aim to reduce the load on students, leaving intact the general overall structure of the written examination papers. In the majority of cases these adjustments will involve reducing the number of questions that students will be required to answer. The duration of the examinations will remain the same as set out in the published timetable, thus providing students with additional time to read the paper and answer the required number of questions.

  Further subject-by-subject information in relation to these adjustments will be issued by the SEC in the week of 22 March.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 500. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the estimated timeline for the introduction of special schools from 50% to 100% capacity in the next few weeks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12819/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I want to assure the Deputy that I am conscious of the fact that closing schools has hugely adverse consequences at individual, family and societal level and that the effect on children with complex special educational needs can be even greater.

  For this reason, special schools were prioritised to reopen on 11 February on a 50% attendance basis and a supplementary programme was also put in place. Special schools returned to full-time in-school education on 1 March.

  The purpose of managing this cautious phased return is to continue to limit the mobility of the population and curb the spread of the virus.

  The safe return and sustained safe re-opening of our schools is a key priority.

School Transport

 501. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan Information on Pádraig O'Sullivan Zoom on Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the timeline for the interim report for school transport to be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12827/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

  The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

In October 2019, my predecessor announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to taking a fresh look at the service and its broader effectiveness and sustainability. Given the evolving situation with Covid-19 the work of the Steering Group had been delayed. However, an initial meeting of the Steering Group was held on the 11th of February in order to recommence the process, which will continue over the coming period. The review is being conducted to ensure that the school transport is fit for purpose and that it serves students and their families adequately.

This review will also build on the proposals in the Programme for Government as they relate to school transport, including examining the options to reduce car journeys and assessing how the School Transport Scheme can work in liaison with the Safe Routes to Schools Programme; examining the options for providing a better value and a better service for students, including and examining issues such as the nearest or next-nearest school.

  Other issues under consideration include the efficiency of the service and to also examine potential scope for a more co-ordinated approach involving other Government departments involved in transport services.

  It is planned that the Steering Group will report to me on an interim basis as the review progresses, with a view to presenting a final report later this year with recommendations on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme.

School Admissions

 502. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of admissions to a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12838/21]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan Enabling children with special educational needs to receive an education appropriate to their needs is a priority for this Government.

This year, over 20% of the total Education budget or €2bn will be invested in supporting children with special educational needs. As a result, the numbers of special education teachers, SNAs and special class and school places are at unprecedented levels.

Through better planning at both national and local level, it is my objective that specialist education places should come on stream to meet emerging demand on a timely basis. However, the active collaboration of school communities is essential in this regard.

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has responsibility for coordinating and advising on the education provision for children nationwide. NCSE is planning a further expansion of special class and special school places nationally, to meet identified need. This process is ongoing.

Notwithstanding the extent of the investment in special education and the supports which have been put in place, I am also very conscious that there are some parts of the country where increases in population and other issues have led to concerns regarding a shortage of school places.

I can assure the Deputy that the NCSE is acutely aware of these concerns and is continuing its engagement with schools, patron bodies, parents and other stakeholders to bring the required additional special education placements on stream.

My Department will continue to support the NCSE and schools through the provision of the necessary funding and capital investment to ensure all children are successful in accessing an education and I want to reassure you that the delivery of the necessary additional provision is being progressed as an absolute priority.

The admission policies of schools are the remit of the Board of Management of each school and, as such, the NCSE has no role in relation to the number of applicants or waiting lists. Once schools notify NCSE of vacancies within their specialist provision, SENOs work locally to ensure parents are made aware of these special class places.

I am assured that the local SENO is currently engaging with, and remains available, to support these families in finding a suitable placement.

School Transport

 503. Deputy Cathal Crowe Information on Cathal Crowe Zoom on Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if refunds will be issued to parents of pupils on the school transport scheme that have not been attending school and therefore not availing of the service. [12847/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current school year over 113,100 children, including over 14,500 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020.

The purpose of the Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

The decision taken by the Government not to re-open schools on the 6th January 2021 was taken in the interest of protecting our pupils, their families, teachers and those members of the wider community and is one of the many measures taken to support efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The matter of refunds on the cost of school transport tickets for the period of school closures in the 2020/2021 school year will be considered at the end of the current school year.

Education Policy

 504. Deputy Joe O'Brien Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to ensure that fifth year students can be facilitated to catch up on class time lost due to school closures in 2021 and any associated gaps in the coverage of their curriculum in advance of leaving certificate 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12856/21]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including students currently in fifth year, are engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.

  The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a COVID-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

  The nature of distance learning, which was necessitated during the unprecedented closure of schools earlier last year, required educators to take on a range of approaches to support their pupils’ continuity of learning during that period. Assisted by Department-funded resources and supports, schools and teachers demonstrated great innovation in adapting to the unprecedented situation including the use of digital technologies and online learning platforms for teaching and learning.

  Extensive guidance and supports have been and continue to be made available by my Department and its support services to support schools to plan for the transition to online and remote learning. Circular 0074/2020, ‘Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform’, was issued by the Department last year. In accordance with the circular, it became a requirement for all schools to have in place a communication/learning platform (while acknowledging that many schools have already put such platforms in place) that supports them to respond in the event of a partial or full school closure in the future, including the facilitation of some use of live or recorded video lessons where practicable.

  The Circular includes links to a range of materials and supports developed by the Digital Technologies team of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), including information and resources for commonly used platforms for teaching, learning and assessment, short video tutorials exploring how digital platforms and tools can be used effectively for remote learning purposes and clarity regarding how chosen platforms can be effectively used for assessment and feedback purposes.

Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education and Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers  . These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.

  The www.gov.ie/backtoschool site also contains information on wellbeing supports for Leaving Certificate students. This includes a series of supports on managing wellbeing, coping with uncertainty and managing stress and anxiety, developed by the National Educational Psychological Service in my Department, to support students. The webpage has links to more individualised support for students to access, should these be needed. My Department worked with the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for students.

Schools Building Projects

 505. Deputy Cormac Devlin Information on Cormac Devlin Zoom on Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if the case of a school (details supplied) has been brought to her attention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12876/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I can confirm to the Deputy that this school was granted approval and funding to construct 1 mainstream classroom and 4 Special Education Rooms (prefab replacement) under the Department's Additional Accommodation Scheme in October 2018.

   A Tender report was received by the Department in February 2021. It was noted that additional funding would be required for this project and this request is currently under review. The School Authorities will be advised of the Department's decision regarding this matter in due course.

Schools Building Projects

 506. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she will approve a request for extra funding for a school (details supplied) in order that it can proceed with the necessary development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12883/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I can confirm to the Deputy that this school was granted approval and funding to construct 1 mainstream classroom and 4 Special Education Rooms (prefab replacement) under the Department's Additional Accommodation Scheme in October 2018.

   A Tender report was received by the Department in February 2021. It was noted that additional funding would be required for this project and this request is currently under review. The School Authorities will be advised of the Department's decision regarding this matter in due course.


Last Updated: 14/06/2021 12:12:32 First Page Previous Page Page of 114 Next Page Last Page