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Foley and unions agree on Leaving Cert but no deal on schools' return

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Education Minister Norma Foley wants 'shared objective'

Education Minister Norma Foley wants 'shared objective'

Education Minister Norma Foley wants 'shared objective'

Education Minister Norma Foley, teacher unions, and other education partners have agreed they want the Leaving Cert to go ahead - but are no closer to getting sixth years back into to the classroom.

Less than 24 hours after teacher unions pulled the plug on plans to reopen schools on Monday for 60,000 Leaving Cert students and 18,000 pupils with special needs, a new round of talks was under way. Ms Foley had separate meetings with the education stakeholders from primary level and post-primary level, which were later described by several participants as positive and constructive.

When the new school term kicks off belatedly on Monday, it will be a return to remote learning for more than 900,000 pupils, until the end of January at the earliest.

While yesterday's meetings agreed there should be a return to the classroom at the earliest opportunity, with priority for Leaving Cert students and special needs pupils, there was no discussion about the circumstances in which that would happen.

At a meeting on Thursday, public health experts told the education stakeholders that schools were safe and that they had no difficulty with the limited return proposed for Monday. However, shortly afterwards, the Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) said it had not received sufficient assurances, particularly around the new Covid variant, while the Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) also expressed health and safety concerns.

Both unions instructed their members not to co-operate.

Parents of children with special needs have been devastated they are not returning to school on Monday.

Ms Foley told yesterday's meetings she wanted to put measures in place immediately to ensure a meaningful continuity of education for these pupils.

The minister is meeting representatives of three advocacy organisations - Inclusion Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland and the autism charity, AsIAm - on Monday.

Mainstream

AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris said they wanted home tuition to be made available to every student enrolled in special classes and schools and to students in mainstream education who were unable to learn remotely. At yesterday's meeting with second-level representatives, Ms Foley also asked about the Leaving Cert and whether everyone shared the objective of holding the traditional exams.

Her message was that if exam candidates don't get back to school soon, there will need to be discussion about a Leaving Cert Plan B.

There was a consensus around holding the exams, but she said it must be backed up by actionable commitments.

The discussions between the sides will continue, but no timeline has been set and with the current record Covid infection rates and ongoing uncertainty about its progress, no one was hazarding a guess as to when even students deemed as priority might be back in school.

This year's Leaving Cert candidates have already suffered serious disruption having been out of schools from March to June last year.


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