01 February, 2021 - Ministers Foley and Madigan welcome agreed plan for return to in-school learning for children with special educational needs at primary level

-        Children in special schools to return on 50 per cent capacity shared basis from 11 February

-        Children in special classes in mainstream primary schools to return from 22 February

-        Supplementary in-person care and educational support programme to commence from 11 February for four weeks

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD today welcomed the plan agreed by the Department of Education with relevant education stakeholders to initiate a phased return to in-person learning for children in special schools and children in special classes in mainstream schools. 

This announcement follows intensive engagement with the trade unions representing teachers and special educational needs assistants, and other relevant stakeholders including parents and school management bodies, to discuss the challenges posed and the supports required to ensure a safe return for this cohort of vulnerable pupils.

On Thursday 11 February, special schools will re-open to pupils. In accordance with this agreement pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.

On Monday 22 February, special classes in mainstream schools will re-open to pupils.

Talks will continue this week and in the coming period with stakeholders on further phases of return so that a wider reopening can be delivered for children as soon as possible.

During the period of school closure, remote learning provision will continue to be made available to all pupils in line with each school’s remote learning plan.

Recognising that remote learning is particularly challenging for children with additional needs, the Department of Education has put in place a supplementary programme to support the education and/or care needs of pupils with complex needs.

An allocation of five hours per week of home-based teaching or care supports will be made available to eligible pupils. This allocation is intended to supplement, and not replace, the remote teaching provided by the pupil’s school and can be provided by a teacher or SNA in a student’s home, at evenings and weekends. Participation in the programme is voluntary for families, teachers and SNAs and must be delivered in accordance with Public Health Advice.

The four–week programme (20 hours) can commence from11 February and can be used by families at any time up until the end of April.

Minister Foley said: “I am pleased that we are now in a position to give certainty to children with special education needs and their families on when they can return to school. Learning remotely is particularly hard for these children and I am acutely conscious that the loss of the regular school routine, social interaction with friends, direct face to face access to teachers and special needs assistants as well as therapy interventions have presented a huge challenge and a real risk of regression to the learning, social, emotional development and wellbeing of these pupils.

“It is hugely positive we now have a concrete plan in place to support these children to return to in-person schooling, in line with public health advice.

“I want to thank everyone who has engaged in this process, from the very beginning, to reach a solution and to meet the needs of these children.

“It is regrettable that a pathway for a return to in-class learning for children with additional needs in mainstream schools could not be reached but we will continue to work with our partners to provide a resolution for this cohort of pupils. 

“The re-opening of our schools for all students remains a top priority for Government and I am committed to working on an ongoing basis with all stakeholders to achieve this, in line with public health advice.”

Minister Madigan said: “I welcome the progress to date on the re-opening of special education. We are moving in the right direction. While today’s news is a positive development, it is important to recognise the work that remains in order to ensure that in-person education is provided for every young person to whom remote learning is not suited. There are also students in mainstream education with special education needs who would benefit from in-person education and negotiations to progress this will continue.

“From the beginning, the Government has sought to ensure that the rights of students with special educational needs and their families are protected. They are the students with the greatest level of need in our education system. It is only right that they are given priority in the phased re-opening of our education system. This is recognised across the board.

“My colleagues and I will continue to work to ensure that every support and reassurance is provided to school staff and families at this time. We all acknowledge the vital role they perform. Our actions will continue to be guided at all times by public health advice as well work to ensure that educational opportunity is available to everyone in society in a safe and progressive manner.”

Special schools and special classes will be supported in their return by the enhanced school teams put in place by the HSE and the Department of Education. Updated guidance and information on the supports for schools will be made available in advance of the return.

Further information on the in-person supplementary scheme to support the education and care needs of pupils with complex needs is being finalised and will be issued to schools over the coming days. Parents will be advised on the application process, which will be similar to a summer provision scheme, with parents engaging the teacher or SNA directly and the Department arranging payment.

It is intended that this programme would be supported by teachers and SNAs who may opt in to participate, on a paid basis, to help ensure a better learning experience for these pupils and to build on the learning taking place as part of the remote provision. 

  

Notes to Editors on Supplementary Programme

The In-person Supplementary Programme to Support the Education and/or Care Needs of Pupils with Complex Needs scheme is a temporary measure during this period of school closure, in February 2021. The four–week programme (20 hours) can commence from 11 February and can be used by families at any time up until the end of April.

These hours supplement existing school provision provided remotely, therefore they cannot be delivered during the school day. They can however be delivered outside of the normal school day and/or at weekends if necessary.

As this will be a supplementary programme, it is voluntary for teachers and SNAs to participate.

Similar to the Department’s home based summer programme, parents will engage tutors/SNAs directly in a private arrangement. 

Tutors/SNAs would be paid for this additional work through the Department’s payroll upon receipt of the completed claim form from parents.

 

Eligibility for the programme will comprise:

 

  • All pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes in primary schools
  • Pupils in mainstream schools who are accessing the highest levels of support in school at the School Support Plus/Support for a Few stage of the Continuum of Support (including pupils with Autism, Down syndrome, sensory impairments, and other disabilities.) This will include the pupils who were identified for the summer programme of 2020.
  • Schools have flexibility to identify pupils that require the highest level of support at any given time. This will ensure that pupils presenting with exceptional needs due to the current school closures can participate in the scheme.