Department provides additional clarification on reopening schools

The Department of Education and Skills (DES) circulated a letter to schools at the weekend which clarifies a number of issues that were raised by INTO.

INTO will continue to engage with DES and primary education stakeholders with a view to developing clear and practical supports for the primary education sector. Schools must be given clarity in advance of the commencement of summer provision programmes for children with special educational needs and pupils from DEIS schools.

Plans for reopening schools at the beginning of the academic year must be led by public health advice. Principals and Boards of Management will need guidance soon, so that initial planning can begin this month.

In his letter to schools, the Secretary General of the DES, Seán O Foghlú, outlined the following key activities now underway within the department:

Overall objective

To open schools in accordance with the normal start of the new school year to the fullest extent while minimising the risks from a public health perspective. Arrangements will allow for new routines to be established and bedded in within schools.

Public health guidance

Detailed engagement is underway in relation to the development of public health guidance for school settings. This will be provided in time to facilitate the operation of summer programmes and to enable detailed planning and preparatory work for the re-opening of schools. The public health guidance will be kept under on-going review and refined if necessary in advance of the re-opening of schools at the end of August.

Guidance and templates

To enable schools to comply with the requirements of the national Return to Work Safely Protocol, guidance and templates are being developed centrally in consultation with education partners. These guidance documents and templates will be published later in June and July. Draft guidance and templates will be available in time for use by schools planning to operate summer programmes.

Awareness raising and training

Guidance and online training modules, webinars, etc. will be developed centrally and available for use by schools, parents and students.

Enhanced cleaning regime

Additional resources will be provided to schools to enable enhanced cleaning regimes to be put in place for operation of schools.

Good hand hygiene

The existing handwashing facilities in some schools are not designed for the enhanced level of handwashing envisaged in a Covid-19 environment without significantly impacting on educational class time. A drawdown framework will be established by the Department to enable schools to purchase hand sanitisers for use in the school and classroom. The procurement process for this framework is commencing immediately and it will also deal with any other potential PPE requirements. It is not envisaged that significant PPE will be required in school settings. Details on the additional funding for schools will be provided in due course.

Mental health and wellbeing

There will be a strong focus on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff during the initial phase of re-opening schools. Central guidance will be provided.

Teaching and learning and curriculum

The Department is working with the NCCA, the Inspectorate and other experts as appropriate to tailor teaching and learning appropriately to the needs of students as they re-engage with school.

Blended learning/alternative provision

Notwithstanding the overall objective, planning for a blended learning approach (online/in school) will be a feature of the approach to planning to reopen schools as there may be circumstances where schools will have to have the necessary agility to respond quickly to changed circumstances at local, regional or national level. Planning is underway with the NCCA, the Inspectorate and other experts as appropriate on how best to manage and operate blended learning model.

Consultation and communication

The Department will continue to engage closely with education partners and other key stakeholders on the development of guidance and supports for the re-opening of schools. A dedicated webpage will be provided to enable the sharing of information and updates in an open and transparent manner.