Guidance published – phased return of special  schools and special classes  

INTO expected that guidance would issue from the Department of Education yesterday in respect of the phased reopening of special  schools and special classes. We now understand that the guidance has been relayed to school principals today (3 Feb) and we are sharing it here too. We believe this delay was unhelpful and we have relayed the strong concerns of this union to the department this afternoon.

As members will be aware, this resumption will commence with the partial reopening of special schools on Thursday 11 February, where there may be a maximum of fifty percent of pupils attending on alternate days. Special classes will reopen on Monday, 22 February.

The guidance today covers a number of aspects of this interim arrangement, negotiated by both the INTO and Fórsa.

A number of extra risk mitigation measures are being put in place prior to the partial resumption of special education facilities including the following.

COVID-19 response plan

The COVID-19 response plan for the safe and sustainable operation of primary and special schools has been re-examined by the DE and updated to ensure it reflects the latest advice issued by government and NPHET to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The list of new additions/revisions is highlighted in Appendix 1 in section order as they appear in school COVID-19 response plans to make them easily identifiable.

Click here for guidance.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Revised Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) guidelines for special needs assistants (SNAs) published on 7 January 2021 recommended surgical grade masks for all SNAs. The Department of Education has stated that this level of PPE should be provided for all special education teachers too.  The Department of Education has confirmed that funding for all required PPE is being provided for the coming term. Any school requiring additional funding for PPE, or that has any issues in relation to supply, should contact the DE.

Public health school teams, testing and tracing

Public Health has confirmed to the DE that:

  • The enhanced Public Health schools’ teams will be available to fully support schools open in this interim phase
  • Full contact tracing and bulk fast-track testing within the school setting will resume immediately in any school that has a confirmed case of COVID-19 after reopening.
  • The numbers to contact teams or alert the Health Service Executive (HSE) are still in use and will be available to respond to special schools and classes in this interim phase.

The HSE has also confirmed that close contact testing resumed since last week in the wider community.


Childcare facilities remain open to provide childcare for children of essential workers including teachers. The Department of Children has provided FAQs and information on subsidies that may be available for education sector staff. Information on subsidies is available on Greater flexibility in the use of existing parental leave has also been put in place during this limited interim phase.

Information for parents

Short videos for parents from public health doctors will be circulated to reaffirm the importance of keeping COVID-19 out of schools by keeping symptomatic children at home. Parents of children returning to school will be asked to complete a declaration form indicating their compliance with public health advice.


The DE has engaged with the Department of Health on the vaccination schedule and confirmed that those essential to education are estimated at this time to be in the first one third of the population captured by the Vaccine Allocation Strategy. The DE has further engaged with the Department of Health requesting that consideration be  given to accommodating staff working with SEN students within the vaccination programme at the earliest opportunity.

In-person 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. The four–week programme (20 hours) can commence from 11 February and can be used by qualifying 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.

The following guidance is available in respect of this scheme:

The guidance issued this evening also references the supports that will be available to staff of special schools and in special classes from various agencies including NEPS, NCSE, DE Inspectorate.

Key documents 

Letter to Principals re return and SEN (3 Feb 2021)

Covid-19 Response Plan for Primary and Special Schools

Covid-19 Response Plan for Primary and Special Schools (Irish version) 

Appendix 1: Framework SEN

Appendix 2: Summary of Public Health Advice

Appendix 3: Summary of aditions to Covid …