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Pupils sent home with books in case schools stay closed after Christmas

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Minister Simon Harris

Minister Simon Harris

Minister Simon Harris

Some schools sent pupils home with their books for Christmas in case Covid-19 forced a delay to the start of the new term in January.

The reopening of schools on Wednesday, January 6, is a Government priority and the Department of Education did not issue any advice to the country's 4,000 schools to make contingency arrangements of that nature.

However, with a surge in infection rates, some principals took the precaution of ensuring pupils were set up for a return to remote teaching for a period, if necessary.

As the Cabinet brought forward the lockdown of other activities in the face of the third Covid-19 wave, a spokesperson for Education Minister Norma Foley said they were committed to schools reopening on January 6.

The first term of the year ended yesterday, but many parents had kept children at home for the final days, in the hope of minimising the risk of infection ahead of festive gatherings with more vulnerable family members, such as grandparents.

Uncertainty

Public health experts insist that children are safe in school, but amid fears that the recent rapid rise in infection would creep into classrooms, many parents clearly took the view that home was safer still.

Amidst all the uncertainty of what the landscape will be on January 6, the autism advocacy group, AsIAm, warned proper provision must be in place for children with special needs should schools not be able to re-open on schedule.

AsIAm chief executive Adam Harris said the system "failed children with the greatest needs during lockdown one, and a second period would have devastating impacts".

He said the authorities must prepare models to allow for continuity of learning for vulnerable pupils if a second closure was required in January.

In a recent survey by AsIAm, Down Syndrome Ireland and Inclusion Ireland, 79pc of parents stated children would need in-school support to continue their learning, in the event of future school ­closures.

Irish Primary Principals Network (IPPN) chief executive Páiric Clerkin said the question of reopening of schools should follow public health advice, but principals and boards of management would need to know that the supports were in place to ensure a safe reopening.

Staff shortages could be an issue and volunteer boards of management may be faced with very difficult decisions if a lot of staff were not able to come to school.

"I could be eight or nine o'clock at night and they realise that half the staff are gone for the next day," he said.

Activities

"They need to know that if they are facing a difficulty, that everyone will get behind them to try to support them."

Meanwhile, as Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the new restrictions, he said teaching and learning in further and higher education would remain primarily online in the new year.

A spokesperson for Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said they expected colleges would be in a position to bring first years on to campus safely for activities such as small group teaching.

Arrangements will vary between colleges and courses but a spokesperson for the minister said that he "would still expect that to happen".


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