Thursday, 19 May 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. It gives me an opportunity to present the most up-to-date information to the House. I will say to the House, as I did to the Deputy personally, that it was an excellent visit to east Cork. I very much appreciated the opportunity to meet the schools and school communities on the ground and have very positive engagements. We are very appreciative of that. I acknowledge that many of the points raised with me on the day with regard to issues did not pertain to my Department. There was an absolute acknowledgement, in terms of the resources for English as an additional language, EAL, or additional hours required by schools to meet the demands of having additional students from Ukraine, having already been met by my Department. I gave a commitment on the day that will continue going forward.
As Minister for Education in the Department of Education, I acknowledge that our schools throughout the country have done great work in welcoming Ukrainian children and young people into their communities. I have witnessed this excellent work first hand when I have visited many schools, including in the Deputy's constituency. The Department of Education published figures on Monday which show that almost 6,000 students from Ukraine have enrolled in primary and post-primary schools. The Department has allocated additional resources as required for these enrolments, including teaching hours for EAL. All schools who enrol Ukrainian students are eligible for additional EAL support.
The Deputy will appreciate the scale of the response needed when more than 30,000 Ukrainians have arrived to date. This was why the Department moved quickly in the early phase of the Ukrainian crisis to establish regional education and language teams, REALTs, throughout the country to co-ordinate school enrolments for Ukrainian families. They have been a key element of the Department's supports for all schools, establishing relationships with each community response forum and with the Tusla education support service, TESS. Other agencies are also linked into these teams, including the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, and the inspectorate.
All school management bodies have nominated representatives to liaise with each REALT. The primary role of REALT is to build on existing regional education support structures and the initial focus is on assisting families in securing school places, when they are ready to engage with the school system. It is important that it is when they are ready to engage. REALT will also support schools in the area to meet the needs of these children as they emerge, to advise and support the Department in developing new capacity where required and to co-ordinate the provision of education services to schools and families across their defined area. The Deputy will recall that there was a very positive endorsement of the work of REALT in our engagement with school management.
These teams will ensure that clear, accessible information flows are in place between schools, local education support services and national support structures. The Department is committed to providing every support possible to all those fleeing war in Ukraine and seeking protection in Ireland. These teams will provide critical support in aligning current school capacity with the placement of Ukrainian families as much as possible.
The Department's data show that there is generally good capacity across the country, albeit there may be capacity pressures to be managed in some areas. Many resources for teaching, learning and inclusion of Ukrainian pupils have been published to date, including a central repository of information and continuing professional development, CPD, resources for school leaders and teachers to support cultural and linguistic diversity, which is available on scoilnet.ie. A helpline for school principals is also in place. NEPS has delivered a series of well-being webinars via Education Support Centres Ireland to further support schools. It will develop further advice and resources as needs emerge and its psychologists are actively engaging with school principals to provide advice and support in this initial stage of welcoming children and young people.
Schools that have enrolled students from Ukraine can apply for additional English language support and hundreds of schools are already receiving this support. Included among the wide array of resources available to schools is information on free digital tools, including apps that can assist with text and voice translation. These resources are particularly useful in terms of making forms and documents accessible to all and for assisting with communication between schools and parents. Further information is available on the website of the Professional Development Service for Teachers. Further information on the Department of Education's approach to supporting children and young people from Ukraine is available on the Department's website and is updated regularly.