Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Opening of Schools and Calculated Grades: Statements


11:35 pm

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

My opening remarks allowed me to set out again the commitment of the Government and my Department to the education of our schoolgoing students, and their families, schools and communities. I could use the time available to me to detail again all that has been done in the school sector, but the roadmap for reopening our schools has been published and is available to all on gov.ie. It is exactly what its title says, namely, a roadmap signposting how we can get our schools open once again and children back into their classrooms. We need our children back in school. They have lost enough of what we considered normal less than six months ago. Schools in the new term will not be exactly the same as they were, but they will be familiar places and are the best places for our children to learn in the broadest sense from their teachers, peers and experiences of being together, and, for some, from the structures, routines and sports that schools provide them with.

I have listened carefully to contributions from Deputies today and on every other occasion on which I have spoken in the House. I was in the House to take priority questions earlier. I was in both Houses on Tuesday. I have been impressed by the engagement and interest shown by Deputies and the shared commitment to reopen schools safely and fully.

I am very much aware that our schools are rooted in local communities and that we must ensure in the coming weeks that each school can reopen safely, remain open and, as we work to implement the programme for Government, can develop and meet the demands of communities in the longer term. There are challenges to reopening our schools over the coming weeks, but there has been significant resilience and initiative shown across society since March. By working together, we can get the work that is needed done to reopen our schools fully and safely.

The reopening of our schools is a major logistical undertaking, and I know that has been a much used phrase. I also know that some have expressed concerns about whether there is enough time to prepare, whether additional staff will be required and available and what might happen if there are outbreaks of the virus. We will all work together through any challenges that emerge. My Department is available to schools to support them in any particular challenges that might emerge.

In the longer term, the programme for Government offers the framework for us to address many of the issues which Deputies and others have raised with me in recent weeks, including reform of the curriculum to include a focus on modern languages, digital skills and inclusion, enhancing how we support our language and culture, how we fund and resource our schools, including capitation payments, class sizes and support staff in schools, and how we can improve the school transport system to make it more sustainable in every sense of the word.

I look forward to the establishment of a citizens' assembly on education, as it will give us a vehicle to debate some of the fundamental issues that Deputies and Senators have raised over the course of this week in different sessions with me.

This House will go into recess tomorrow, but I and my Department will continue to work towards their priorities of reopening our schools and delivering leaving certificate calculated grades to 60,000 students on 7 September. Many of the students will have received those results and offers of further and higher education places by the time we have the opportunity to debate education matters in the House again. Our schools will also have reopened.

As the Minister with responsibility for education and a former teacher, I know how important education is for our young people. Everything I, my Department and the education partners do is motivated by the best interests of the children and young people that we serve. Our schools in every sense, including their students, families and staff, are at the centre of our communities. Perhaps it took the restrictions which were necessary to combat the Covid-19 virus for us as a society to make that connection once again.

We are truly all in this together, and we will continue to work with all concerned to the benefit of our students across the country, not just in the weeks ahead but in the years ahead as we strengthen and invest in our school sector. Faoi mar a bhí riamh, is atá sé anois: ní neart go cur le chéile.


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