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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 928-952
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item School Discipline
 Header Item School Enrolments
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Schools Site Acquisitions
 Header Item Schools Site Acquisitions
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item School Enrolments
 Header Item National Educational Psychological Service
 Header Item National Educational Psychological Service
 Header Item National Educational Psychological Service
 Header Item Schools Extra Curricular Activities
 Header Item State Examinations
 Header Item Teaching Council of Ireland
 Header Item Teaching Qualifications
 Header Item School Admissions
 Header Item Special Educational Needs Staff
 Header Item School Curriculum
 Header Item Physical Education
 Header Item School Transport
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 3
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 157 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 928-952

School Curriculum

 928. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the regulations in place which allow schools to exclude children from accessing transition year education in cases in which that year is provided within the school. [15494/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The management authority of each school carries responsibility for making decisions regarding the provision of the Transition Year Programme in their school.

In some schools, the Transition Year programme is compulsory for all students, in other schools Transition Year is offered as an option to students. Circumstances may arise where it is necessary to limit the number of students who can avail of the Transition Year programme in a school and it is the board of management of these schools that decide the number of places available on the programme. In cases where restrictions apply, schools should have clear procedures regarding how places are allocated to students.

School Discipline

 929. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the regulations in place to allow for the expiry of a suspension on a student’s record within the lifetime of attendance at a school. [15495/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley Section 7 of the Education (Admissions to Schools) Act 2018 has provided for the replacement of the existing Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 with a series of new sections numbered 29 to 29F. These new appeal provisions in sections 29 to 29F came into operation on 12 November 2020.

The appeals system provides for a parent/guardian to take an appeal in respect of a decision by a school’s board of management or person acting on behalf of the board of management to suspend a student from attendance at a school for 20 or more school days in a school year.

Appeals against suspension are examined and determined by an independent appeals committee by way of oral hearing after which a committee must issue a decision, and reasons for that decision, to the parties to the appeal.

In accordance with section 29D (11) where a committee allows an appeal the decision shall include a direction to the board of management of the school to readmit the student and remove the suspension from the student’s record.

Where an appeal is disallowed, the suspension stays on the record of the student. However the NEWB Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools (www.tusla.ie/uploads/content/guidelines_school_codes_eng.pdf) state in section 11.10 that:

“When any sanction, including suspension, is completed, a student should be given the opportunity and support for a fresh start. Although a record is kept of the behaviour and any sanction imposed, once the sanction has been completed the school should expect the same behaviour of this student as of all other students” 

Under these guidelines schools are required to have a policy on and fair procedures for the use of suspension.

School Enrolments

 930. Deputy Ged Nash Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if additional places will be provided for first year students for the 2021-2022 academic year at a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15536/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department has had discussions with the patron body and will shortly arrange to meet with the school Board of Management and the Patron in relation to the need for an additional intake of students for the 2021/22 academic year.  Some additional classroom spaces can be provided on the site using existing planning provisions. A planning application will also be progressed to provide for further additional accommodation on the site for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 school years.

School Curriculum

 931. Deputy Martin Browne Information on Martin Browne Zoom on Martin Browne asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the guidelines that have been issued to schools for junior certificate students for assessing students in view of the significant number of months missed due to Covid-19. [15541/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley As part of the Government Decision on 17 February last, the normal Junior Cycle Examination processes for 2021 were cancelled.

Given the priority that needed to be accorded to the Leaving Certificate examinations and the challenge associated with running them, it was not considered feasible to run a set of Junior Cycle Examinations also. 

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

Guidance has been provided to schools and centres of education in the form of Guidelines on Assessment and Reporting on Students’ Learning – Junior Cycle 2021 and is available on the gov.ie page for the Junior Cycle 2021.  These guidelines set out arrangements to support schools and centres for education in their approach to reporting on the learning achievements and progress of students who are completing their Junior Cycle programme of study in 2021.

Schools will shortly be provided with further guidance on continuing to engage this year group in online learning and assessment during the period of school closure and through in-person learning when schools re-open.

School Transport

 932. Deputy Johnny Mythen Information on Johnny Mythen Zoom on Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley further to Parliamentary Question No. 494 of 10 March 2021, the rationale for the requirement for Bus Éireann school bus drivers to retire at 70 years of age. [15591/21]

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.

As previously advised, 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.

Schools Site Acquisitions

 933. Deputy Ossian Smyth Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress being made to accommodate a new school (details supplied) for the 2021-2022 school year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15595/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley With regard to the school to which the Deputy refers work is currently ongoing in relation to sourcing interim accommodation. I can confirm that the school will open in September 2021 in suitable interim accommodation pending delivery of its permanent building.

The permanent school building project, for the school referred to by the Deputy, has been assigned to my Department’s Design & Build delivery programme.

The Design and Build delivery programme uses a professional external Project Manager to progress the project through the relevant stages of architectural planning, tender and construction.  Architectural Planning has commenced with site surveys completed and design development underway and a pre-planning meeting has been held with the local authority.

It is expected that the planning application for this school will be lodged in Quarter 2 2021. Until such time as the necessary statutory approvals have been secured, it is not possible to provide an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project to tender and construction stages.

Schools Site Acquisitions

 934. Deputy Ossian Smyth Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the progress being made to accommodate a new school (details supplied) for the 2021-2022 school year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15596/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department remains committed to providing permanent accommodation to meet the needs of the school to which the Deputy refers. As the Deputy is aware, officials in my Department have been actively engaging with officials from Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council via emails, phone calls and through online meeting platforms to establish all relevant information in respect of two site options so that a determination as to the optimum configuration of school sites can be made at the earliest possible date. As a result, the site acquisition is progressing well.

However, once my officials achieve agreement in principle on the final site, the Patron will be advised of the location without delay and the site acquisition will proceed to the conveyancing stage.

Schools Building Projects

 935. Deputy Ossian Smyth Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of the design and build process for the permanent site of a school (details supplied); if the premises will comply with the provision of open space for children to play; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15597/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The school building project for the school in question is being delivered under my Department's Design and Build programme and the submission of the planning application is imminent. 

Where circumstances permit, the external play space for a school of this size would be 2 ballcourts x 585sq.m and 1 junior play space x 400sq.m.  However this is not always possible in urban settings.  The scheme for the school in question provides 295sq.m external play space and in acknowledgement of the limited play space available, 150sq.m additional internal space above the standard provision in a school of this size was incorporated into the GP Room.

Schools Building Projects

 936. Deputy Anne Rabbitte Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the status of a school (details supplied); when planning permission will be sought; when development and construction is likely to commence; when the work will be completed; when students and teachers will move in; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15642/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the building project for the school to which he refers has been devolved for delivery to Galway & Roscommon Education and Training Board (GRETB). 

  The Service Level Agreement (SLA) has been issued to GRETB. The next step is for the ETB to procure a Design Team for the project to design the buildings, obtain the necessary statutory planning permissions, and move the project onward to tender and construction in due course.   

  As the project is at an early stage in the delivery process, it is not possible at this time to give a date for its completion. Please be assured that the ETB will be engaging directly with the school authority to keep it informed of progress.

School Enrolments

 937. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if a student (details supplied) will be permitted to enrol for transition year in the same school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15643/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The management authority of each school carries responsibility for making decisions regarding the provision of the Transition Year Programme in their school.

  In this case, I understand the school will be in direct contact with the parents.

National Educational Psychological Service

 938. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the reason National Education Psychological Service psychologists cannot assess students in school environments when schools are reopened; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15660/21]

 941. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if psychological assessments are being undertaken for primary students since schools reopened; and if so, the number by county and week since 1 March 2021. [15663/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I propose to take Questions Nos. 938 and 941 together.

Covid-19 has had a major impact on our daily lives and we have all had to adjust and adapt in the face of significant challenges in the course of 2020.  From the outset of this pandemic the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has continued to deliver a psychological service to schools within the context of public health advice. In addition, NEPS has remained proactive in the development of advice for schools, parents and pupils to support the wellbeing of students and the transition back into school.  As part of a package of measures to support the reopening of our schools the provision of an additional seventeen psychologist posts to NEPS was announced bringing overall sanctioned numbers to 221 whole time equivalent psychologist posts. 

Guidelines were issued to psychologists and to schools to clarify procedures for in-school work during the course of this academic year to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all members of the school communities and NEPS staff.

Now that our schools have reopened once again, NEPS psychologists have resumed an increased focus on both consultation and casework in schools with particular attention to the needs of individual students.  Psychologists have been asked to provide a blended approach to the provision of casework to schools, working both remotely, if appropriate, using secure on-line platforms, and in-school, depending on school protocols/plans and the nature of need of the child/young person. This approach recognises that some aspects of casework will require the psychologist to work in the school, while other aspects of the work may be done remotely in order to minimise risk and maximise safety. 

Information on the number of assessments by county and week since 1 March 2021 is not currently available in the format requested, i.e. by county.  A new IT system is currently being rolled out in NEPS which will more easily facilitate access to data such as this in the future.  I can confirm to the Deputy that since March 1st this year NEPS psychologists have been actively involved with 1497 individual cases across the entire country.

National Educational Psychological Service

 939. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of National Educational Psychological Service psychologists in full-time employment by county as of March 2021 (details supplied). [15661/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley In relation to the Deputy’s request for information on NEPS psychologists assigned by county, I wish to advise that psychologists work within a regional and local office structure serving the needs of schools in their immediate vicinity. I have attached details of the eight regions and the counties covered by each region.

  I have also included for the Deputy information on a breakdown of NEPS whole-time equivalent figures by NEPS Region along with the sites of the current maternity leave vacancies. While the assigned psychologist is on maternity leave, schools continue to have access to critical incident support, regional support and development and advisory support from NEPS and pupil casework service via the Scheme for the Commissioning of Psychological Assessments (SCPA).

  NEPS Psychologists

NEPS Regions Whole Time Equivalent
North West/North Midlands Region 19
Western Region 22
South West Region 23
Mid-Munster Region 25
South East/South Midlands Region 28
Dublin Mid-Leinster Region 35
Dublin Region 35
North East Region 18
NEPS PSYCHOLOGISTS MATERNITY LEAVE
NEPS Regions Numbers of NEPS Psychologists currently on maternity leave March 2021
North West/North Midlands Region 0
Western Region 0
South West Region 4
Mid-Munster Region 1
South East/South Midlands Region 6
Dublin Mid-Leinster Region 2
Dublin Region 2
North East Region 2
NEPS has eight regions with a number of offices in each region.
NEPS Regions Counties Served
North West/North Midlands Region Donegal, Sligo Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath.
Western Region

Mayo, Roscommon, Galway.

South West Region Clare, Limerick, Kerry, North Tipperary
Mid-Munster Region Cork, South Tipperary.
South East/South Midlands Region Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford.
Dublin Mid-Leinster Region Kildare, Wicklow, Dublin

South East, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin South West, Dublin West.
Dublin Region Dublin South City, Dublin

North Central, North West

Dublin, North County Dublin.

North East Region Cavan, Monaghan, Louth, Meath.

National Educational Psychological Service

 940. Deputy Alan Kelly Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the number of psychological assessments under the National Educational Psychological Service that were conducted in schools in County Tipperary in 2020. [15662/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I am informed by my officials that the data which the Deputy is seeking is not currently accessible in the format requested, i.e. by county.  This information, however, can be extracted and compiled, and it will be forwarded to the Deputy in the coming days. NEPS is currently in the process of rolling our a  new IT system which will better facilitate access to data such as this in the future.

  Question No. 941 answered with Question No. 938.

Schools Extra Curricular Activities

 942. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley when it is planned for outside contractors such as those who provide physical education in schools to be able to return to visiting schools; if this will be possible after Easter 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15684/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley My Department has published guidance for teaching and learning for primary schools on their return to school. The guidance provides that the use of an external coach or tutor is at the discretion of the board of management who can approve these visitors once they are satisfied that they are Garda vetted, adhere to public health advice, trained by their governing bodies with regard to COVID-19 and fully implement the schools COVID-19 response plan.

State Examinations

 943. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if she will consider exemptions for students (details supplied). [15702/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley As the Deputy is aware an exemption from the study of Irish may be granted by school management in the exceptional circumstances outlined in circular 0052/2019 (Primary) and 0053/2019 (Post Primary) which came into effect at the beginning of the 2019/202 school year.  Decisions on the granting of exemptions from the study of Irish were devolved to school management in previous circulars 12/96 and M10/94 and this remains the case in the current circulars.  Neither I nor my department have a direct role in the granting of an exemption from the study of Irish to an individual student.  The Department of Education website has guidelines (including checklists) and FAQs on exemptions from the study of Irish which provide parents and school staff with further assistance with applications for exemptions from the study of Irish.  These can be accessed here: www.education.ie/en/Parents/Information/Irish-Exemption/.

  All children educated in Ireland are expected to have the opportunity to study Irish to an appropriate standard, unless they meet the criteria for an exemption for the study of Irish.  The closure of schools in response to the risk to health caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the education of the entire cohort of children attending school, it is a matter which schools should take into account in planning the education provision for students over the next few years.

  My Department has recently issued a guidance note to schools related to the circumstance outlined in the Deputy’s question, i.e. 

- where a pupil was not yet 12 years old on first time enrolment in a recognised school in Ireland and   

- moved from abroad to join 5th or 6th class last year (academic year 2019/20) or 6th class this year (academic year 2020/21) and

- progress to post-primary school this (2020/21) or next (2021/22) academic years   and

  - had difficulties accessing appropriate supports during their initial period of learning of the Irish language while learning from home. 

  In such circumstances the principal of the post-primary school may consider granting an exemption on grounds that the student did not have the opportunity to engage in the study of Irish in accordance with Section 2.2.a of the Circular 0053/2019 (post-primary):

  “students whose education up to 12 years of age (or up to and including the final year of their primary education) was received outside the State and where they did not have the opportunity to engage in the study of Irish”

With that in mind, the primary school should consider the available evidence of the student’s progress in learning Irish.  If it is determined that the evidence indicates, as a direct result of periods of school closures due to COVID-19 during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 academic years, and notwithstanding the provision of remote teaching, the student has not made sufficient progress to prepare for engagement in the study of Irish in Junior Cycle, then the principal of the primary school should record this in the pupil’s Education Passport.  Based on the evidence available on the student’s enrolment from abroad into fifth class or sixth class in 2019/2020 or into 6th class in 2020/21, the student’s engagement with and progress in learning Irish while in primary school.

  As with all applications for an Exemption from the study of Irish, documentary evidence supporting the post-primary principal’s decision should be kept in the student’s Exemption File along with the Checklist and Certificate of Exemption.  As set out in 2.3.b of the Circular a copy of the Certificate of Exemption must also be given to the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the student being exempted.  To support inclusive practices, a student who is exempt from the study of Irish should be included in a meaningful way in aspects of Irish language and cultural activities in line with his/her ability and interests and should be informed of the option not to exercise the exemption granted, without any loss of the right to exercise it at a future time.

Teaching Council of Ireland

 944. Deputy Seán Canney Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to publish the Teaching Council’s checklist for Chinese language teachers to become registered with the Teaching Council; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15769/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The Teaching Council is the body with statutory responsibility for establishing and maintaining standards in the teaching profession in this State.  It is also the designated competent authority for the recognition and assessment of qualifications and registration of teachers at Primary and Post Primary level. 

  In November 2021, the Teaching Council published the revised post primary curricular subject requirements for persons applying for registration on or after 1st January 2023.

  Following a process of consultation with stakeholders, the revised requirements were approved by the Teaching Council and my Department  in the context of a range of factors, including ongoing developments in the continuum of teacher education, teacher supply issues and curricular developments.

  I wish to advise that the Council is currently developing requirements for the four new curricular languages of Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian, in line with the revised curricular subject requirements.

  The Teaching Council will convene an information briefing in the coming weeks for relevant key stakeholders in respect of these four curricular subjects.  The requirements for these new curricular languages will then go to Teaching Council for consideration and subsequently to me as Minister for Education for approval.

Teaching Qualifications

 945. 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 she will consider the recruitment of Chinese language teaching posts by an organisation (details supplied); and if the organisation will publish the criteria for teachers to qualify. [15771/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The new Mandarin Chinese specification for Leaving Certificate has been in the process of being implemented since September 2020. Three schools in Dublin implemented it in 5th year in September 2020. Eleven schools have introduced Mandarin Chinese in Transition Year (TY) with a view to offering it for Leaving Certificate 5th year students in Sept 2021. 

Post Primary Languages Ireland has recruited 6 teachers who are receiving significant support and CPD in order to implement the new specification.  

Four hundred and twenty one students are taking Mandarin Chinese in Junior Cycle in 4 schools, 564 students taking it in TY, and 59 students taking Mandarin Chinese in 5th year. 

The Teaching Council is currently developing requirements for the four new curricular languages of Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese and Lithuanian, in line with the revised curricular subject requirements as recently approved by the Minister of Education. The Council will convene an information briefing for relevant key stakeholders in respect of these four curricular subjects in the coming weeks. The requirements will then go to Council for approval and subsequently consideration by the Minister.

School Admissions

 946. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if schools are permitted to set admission criteria which include age ranges at the commencement of the school cycle in cases in which the school has pupils attending up to much older ages as they advance through the school; the procedure regarding pupils that need to join a school mid-stream; the barriers in relation to admission mid-stream; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15792/21]

 949. Deputy James Lawless Information on James Lawless Zoom on James Lawless asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if schools are permitted to set admission criteria which include age ranges at the commencement of school cycle (details supplied); her views on whether this is a form of restriction on pupils joining the school mid-stream; her further views on whether same is in keeping with relevant policies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15814/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley I propose to take Questions Nos. 946 and 949 together.

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.

Under the provisions of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018, all schools are required to have drafted new admissions policies, which have been approved by the patron, following consultation with staff and parents of children who are attending the school.  The newly revised school’s admissions policy is published on the schools website. It is a key requirement of the act that all school admission policies are fair and transparent. The admissions policy must include the procedures for admission of students who are not already admitted to the school for years other than the intake year, and for admission after the start of the school year for which admission is sought.

Parents have the right to choose which school to apply to and where the school has places available for the relevant year, the pupil should be admitted. This is a requirement for the intake group, any group other than the intake group and for applications after the commencement of the school year.

However, in schools where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process will be necessary. 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. However, this may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

The 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. The criteria to be applied by schools and the order of priority are a matter for the schools themselves. Schools can use age as a selection criterion should they wish to do so. It is an important feature of the act that schools can only make a decision on an application for admission that is based on the schools admission policy.

Special Educational Needs Staff

 947. 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 reason pregnant special needs assistants are being denied the health and safety leave available to their teacher colleagues (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15797/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley Under Section 18 of the Maternity Protection Act 1994, an employee who is pregnant or breastfeeding may be granted Maternity Health and Safety Leave from her employment where, following a risk assessment, a risk has been identified, which is not possible to remove from the work environment and where it is not possible to move the SNA to suitable alternative work. 

In relation to remuneration, Section 18(4) of the Act states:

‘For the first 21 days of leave granted to an employee by an employer under this section in any relevant period, the employee shall be entitled to receive from the employer remuneration of an amount determined in accordance with regulations.’

Therefore, in line with legislation my Department’s Maternity Leave Circular Letter 27/2013 for SNAs states the following at paragraph 10.7 regarding Health and Safety Leave entitlement:

'A special needs assistant will be entitled to full salary for the first 21 days while on health and safety leave.'

The Maternity Leave Scheme for teachers contained in my Department’s Circular Letter 54/2019 states the following at paragraph 13.7 regarding Health and Safety Leave entitlement:

'A teacher who makes PRSI contributions at the modified rate (Class D), and has no entitlement to Health and Safety Benefit from the DEASP, will be entitled to full pay while on Health and Safety Leave. A teacher who makes PRSI contributions at the full rate (Class A) and who is entitled to Health and Safety Benefit from the DEASP will be paid full salary by the Paymaster for the first 21 days and thereafter will be paid full salary less any benefit paid by DEASP HSB1 Form.'

The terms and conditions of employment of teachers, who are paid out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, are a matter for the Teachers' Conciliation Council (TCC).  This Council is comprised of representatives of the teacher unions, school management bodies, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Department of Education chaired by an Official of the Workplace Relations Commission.  The non-statutory Maternity Health and Safety Leave entitlements for teachers were agreed under the auspices of the TCC.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has recently published guidance for the education sector in respect of pregnant employees. My Department is currently seeking clarifications from the HSE on this guidance. When my Department has considered the HSE clarifications, any changes to the current working arrangements for pregnant SNAs will be communicated to employers.  In the meantime, a pregnant SNA should temporarily continue to work remotely i.e. working from home as detailed in my Department’s Information Note 0008/2021 for post primary SNAs and Information Note TC 0011/2021 for primary SNAs.

School Curriculum

 948. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley her plans to define Irish sign language as a curricular subject by her Department in order to be included within the Teaching Council’s curricular subject requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15812/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley A short course in Irish Sign Language (ISL) was prepared by Post-Primary Languages Ireland (PPLI) under the remit of my Department. This 100 hour course is based on the Generic Short Course in Modern Languages, which was also developed by PPLI using the new Framework for Junior Cycle (2015) and the Junior Cycle Short Courses Draft Handbook 'Developing Short Courses in Junior Cycle' prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).   The course provides the 'learning statements' and key skills which all short courses are based upon. In this course, the emphasis is on developing communication skills in ISL at level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).  At present there are no plans to introduce Irish Sign Language as an accredited subject for Post-Primary students.

A link to the course is available at: http://languagesinitiative.ie/images/ISL/MFL_Gen_Spec_ISL_28_May__Short_Course.pdf .  Schools can now choose to provide this short course as part of their Junior Cycle programme.

There is also an opportunity for students to learn Sign Language during the course of Transition Year. For further information on the Transition Year programme and the modules available please visit the NCCA’s website at: www.ncca.ie/en/senior-cycle/programmes-and-key-skills/transition-year.

Irish Sign Language is an option in the Leaving Certificate Applied. Currently, there are four modules on Sign Language available as part of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme. This course introduces students to Irish Sign Language and aims to develop their expressive and receptive communication skills. The course also develops awareness and appreciation of the Irish deaf community and its culture. There are four modules in this course. Deaf students may take all four modules instead of the Gaeilge and Modern Language courses. The first two modules of this course may be taken as elective modules by all students.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) have recently commenced a review of Senior Cycle. Key themes of the review will be to consider the range of learning programmes and pathways and how to improve flexibility and choice for students at Senior Cycle. The review of Senior Cycle offers those working in Irish education and the general public an opportunity to contribute to building a shared vision for Senior Cycle. Further information in relation to the review of Senior Cycle is available on the NCCA website at www.ncca.ie/en/senior-cycle/senior-cycle-review.

  Question No. 949 answered with Question No. 946.

Physical Education

 950. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the physical education facilities in place for schools which do not have on-site indoor physical education facilities as the schools reopen; the measures in place for schools which make use of local leisure centres for physical education lessons such as a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15840/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley As the Deputy is aware my Department provided a total of €160m Minor Works Grant funding to Primary and Post-Primary Schools during 2020. (€90m at Primary level and €70m at Post Primary level)

School management authorities including the school referred to by the Deputy have flexibility in terms of how this Minor Works Grant funding is best utilised in meeting the needs of their school operating in a Covid environment which may include the use of external sports facilities.

I wish to advise the Deputy that Level 5 restrictions do not apply to the Education sector and on this basis any prior commitment or agreement between a school authority and a third party should remain in place.

School Transport

 951. Deputy Michael McNamara Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley if a decision has been made on issuing refunds to parents who have paid in advance for transport to schools which were shut; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15849/21]

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.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 952. Deputy Holly Cairns Information on Holly Cairns Zoom on Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Education Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley the steps she is taking to ensure that students with underlying conditions will be supported to continue online learning from home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15900/21]

Minister for Education (Deputy Norma Foley): Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley The Government has always been guided by public health advice in relation to what is safe in schools. The CMO has made it very clear in his advices to Government which are published on gov.ie, that schools are safe environments, with very little evidence of transmission within schools, and that the majority of infections of children and adolescents occurs outside the school setting. The decision to delay the reopening of schools was in recognition of the need to reduce societal activity and movement to curb the spread of the virus at a time where there was unprecedented levels of disease transmission in the community. This was not based on a changed assessment of the risks in relation to transmission levels in schools.

Schools have put significant infection prevention control measures in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus being transmitted to/within the school and funding of almost €650 million has been put in place by my Department to fund Covid-19 related measures, including funding for PPE, sanitation and additional cleaning etc.  

The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has issued specific advice about children attending school in the context of covid-19.  This advice covers both children with underlying medical conditions and children living with family members with underlying conditions.  For all children, care should continue to be taken to reduce transmission through the infection control measures promoted by HPSC.

The HPSC advice advises that children with immediate family members, including parents, in both the ‘high risk’ and ‘very high risk’ categories can return to school and it is important for the child’s overall well-being. This is consistent with public health advice internationally in relation to at-risk family members. The priority is that the household continues to follow all current advice on how to minimise the risk of coronavirus, through regular hand washing, etc.

My Department has also published guidance to support schools in making adapted education provision for students with an underlying medical condition who cannot return to school because they are medically certified as being at very high risk to COVID-19.  The guidance for primary and post-primary schools on supporting such students is available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool/.

The full re-opening of our schools for all students in line with public health advice remains a top priority for Government and my Department is focussing on the safe return of all remaining cohorts of students who are set to return to school after the Easter Break.


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