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'Four children in a pod' ruling to get schools running again

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Primary school children from 2nd class up will be kept in class ‘pods’

Primary school children from 2nd class up will be kept in class ‘pods’

Primary school children from 2nd class up will be kept in class ‘pods’

Lunch breaks will be staggered and students only allowed to mingle in the yard with their own classmates under new rules set out in the Government's roadmap for reopening schools.

Primary school children will be sectioned into pods of between four and six in class and sit at least one metre apart.

Secondary school students will be asked to wear masks on the school bus, but wearing them in classes will be optional.

Divided

State funding will be provided to secondary and primary schools so yards can be divided to allow for segregated outdoor areas for pupils during lunch breaks.

Education Minister Norma Foley's plan has also cleared the way for the return of interactive subjects such as PE, music, computer science and metalwork.

However, strict cleaning regimes will have to be implemented by schools if they intend holding classes that involve pupils interacting with each other and equipment.

Ms Foley's €300m plan will involve major investment in sanitation, personal protective equipment and significant changes to buildings to make sure they comply with Covid-19 safety standards.

An additional €30m will be made available for supervision during break times, when teachers will try to ensure pupils continue to follow social distancing rules outside classrooms.

There are also plans to make more part-time teachers permanent.

There will be separate funding for special education, with €3.8m set aside for extra special needs assistants and substitute teachers.

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Education Minister Norma Foley

Education Minister Norma Foley

Education Minister Norma Foley

However, central to the plan will be new social distancing rules for students when they are in class, on the way to school and in the yard during their breaks.

The Government will provide funding to Bus Eireann and other school bus providers to allow them to make changes to their vehicles that will lessen the spread of the virus.

In line with public health advice, students aged over 13 will be asked to wear masks on buses.

However, they will be encouraged to cycle and walk to school where possible.

Schools will have discretion to stagger hours to ensure students do not all arrive at the same time.

In primary schools, pupils in junior infants through to second class will be exempt from social distancing rules, as the Department of Education believes it is too difficult to make young children adhere to the restrictions.

However, classrooms will be reconfigured for pupils in third to sixth class to allow for individual pods of between four and six children and these pupils will be told not to share class equipment with classmates outside their pod.

These pupils will be expected to remain together at their desks during lessons but will be able to mingle with the rest of their classmates during breaks.

In some cases, two year groups may be allowed to mix during breaks but it is recommended that, where possible, they are kept separate.

The aim is to keep primary school pupils in what are called their classroom "bubbles".

Extra funding for substitute teachers will be made available to ensure classrooms are not spilt if the regular teacher is sick or displaying coronavirus symptoms.

Secondary school students will be kept at least one metre apart from each other and teachers will move between classes for lessons to reduce the movement of pupils.

Wash

In instances where students and staff are asked to move between classes, they will all be asked to wash their hands.

Schools will also be asked to introduce staggered times for lunch breaks, especially if they have on-site cafeterias.

Yesterday, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the plan would involve significant changes to school buildings, the hiring of more teachers and strict cleaning regimes.

"A lot of work has gone into it. There has been a lot of consultation with the unions and I think it's a good plan," he said.

"I'm confident it will go through Cabinet and will allow us open schools for all one million students."