Thursday, 30 July 2020
Opening of Schools and Calculated Grades: Statements
I welcome the Deputy's positive engagement and absolutely appreciate that there should be opportunities for him and other Opposition spokespersons to engage with both me and the Department on an ongoing basis over the coming weeks. I would value that positive engagement. There absolutely should be a national effort in which all of us come together to reopen the schools. I appreciate the wisdom and experience within this Chamber and in other places. I am very happy to work with the Deputy going forward, as are my officials, so he should feel free to engage with me in that respect.
Regarding masks in schools, if I am picking up on the Deputy's point correctly, schools are operating on the basis of the public health advice. There is no requirement for masks within the school environment, unless a child has a particular need to wear a mask or if it is something that has been agreed because of an individual need within a school or whatever. However, it is not envisaged that masks would be worn.
I absolutely appreciate the point the Deputy makes about special educational teachers. It was made by others but I did not have time to reply. In the first instance, we have the newly inaugurated national roll-out of the substitute panel, which is an opportunity for schools to take from that panel. There is also the school's panel. I suppose that every school has its own resource or pool of substitutes. Then there is the national text system, whereby schools also can draw down on substitutes. It is my intention that they will be the three streams that are utilised to source substitute teachers. I say that with absolute sincerity because I recognise and value the importance and the role of special educational teachers.
Regarding school transport and the requirement for pay, as the Deputy has acknowledged, that has been extended until Tuesday. I will look into the matter but it has been extended from Friday to Tuesday.
It is the absolute determination and intention at this point that the calculated grades system be a once-off and that we look to a return to the traditional leaving certificate for the new leaving certificate class of 2021. That is only right and proper and fair. I appreciate that we were in extraordinary times and required an extraordinary measure in the calculated grades system but it is absolutely the intention that we move towards a return to leaving certificate as we would know it in 2021.
I will engage with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on the third level institutions. That is his brief and portfolio. I appreciate the issues the Deputy has raised. I am very conscious of them. I know of many young people and parents in particular who are hugely concerned about the issue of accommodation and how they will cater for children if they are to move to a reduced timetable. I can give the Deputy no further information on that at this point other than to say I will engage with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on it and ask him to revert to Deputy Ó Ríordáin.