Thursday, 30 July 2020
Opening of Schools and Calculated Grades: Statements
Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
I thank the Deputy for his support for me as Minister and for the entire education community. We must make every possible effort to work collaboratively to ensure we can safely and fully reopen schools in late August or September, depending on the individual schools. The Deputy highlighted the importance of SNAs in schools. I absolutely acknowledge that and I have first-hand experience of the invaluable role they play in supporting children with special educational needs. They are a hugely important part of the supports available to children with significant additional needs. SNA numbers have grown substantially, as the Deputy knows, and are now more than 60% higher than they were even ten years ago. We currently have more than 17,000 SNAs in schools supporting more than 35,000 students. Their role and its importance in the school system cannot be emphasised enough. In regard to the use of PPE, for SNAs who are dealing with intimate care or whatever the needs of the student might be, PPE will of course be a necessity.
I appreciate the Deputy's point about the importance of everybody within the school community, including pupils, parents, teachers and staff, being aware of the symptoms of Covid-19, and the obligation on everybody within the school sector to stay at home if they are experiencing those symptoms. Once we open the schools, the most important thing is that we are able to keep them open. For that to happen, there is an obligation on all who engage with and interact in the school environment to know when it is best to stay at home. I take the Deputy's point that questions of funding, in any shape or form, must not stand in the way of schools reopening or the best care and services being provided for the children and young people we serve. To be fair, the package of more than €375 million is a very strong endorsement from Government of the importance of the education sector and, even more so, the importance of the children who are at the centre of it. The resources and supports are there and I have every confidence that the goodwill is also there to ensure schools can safely reopen and students and staff can safely return to classrooms.