Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Education and Skills
English Language Training Organisations
213. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding teachers in private English language schools; the position regarding teacher-led representation as part of the Covid-19 working group for the English language education sector; the position regarding the enforcement of the interim list of educational providers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10766/20]
I am aware of the challenges that are being encountered in the English language education sector and the substantial impact that the Covid-19 outbreak has had on students, teachers and providers in this sector.
My Department recognises the important role that teachers play in this sector and the support they have provided and continue to provide for students at this time. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, officials from my Department have had engagement with teacher representatives where they have outlined their concerns.
The English language education working group for this sector has been established with a remit to address the issues arising from the Covid-19 pandemic with a priority and focus placed in the first instance on issues affecting students as well as other issues arising e.g. how stakeholders can work together to promote the sector as international markets move into recovery. The working group is comprised of key sectoral stakeholders including officials from my Department, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Enterprise Ireland, as well as lead sectoral representative bodies of providers and learner advocates.
The coordination of the response of the wider education system to the Covid-19 outbreak is a substantial challenge. In this context, the Department has found the current structure of the working group to be effective in delivering on its remit. While the Department remains open to views, there are no current plans to expand membership of this working group. To date, the group has facilitated an appropriate level of engagement with stakeholders alongside the ability to identify and help resolve issues as they arise. The Department and the members of the working group will continue to engage with external parties, to seek to exchange information where relevant and address queries where possible.
In relation to the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP), it is operated and maintained by the Department of Justice and Equality in consultation with my Department. The ILEP is a list of education programmes considered to justify the granting of permission to non-EEA students to live and work in Ireland. English language education providers in Ireland seeking to enrol non-EEA students must be listed on the ILEP and to adhere to its requirements. Enforcement of the ILEP is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality.
In compliance with the Government Decision taken in March 2020, all English language education (ELE) providers closed their premises in accordance with public health advice as part of efforts to combat the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result, English language education providers have introduced new ways of providing services to their students including facilitating the provision of online classes. This reflects a similar approach that has been adopted by providers across the wider education system. To facilitate this change in provision and on an exceptional basis to enable students to continue their studies while in the State, the Department of Justice and Equality has introduced a range of measures within the ILEP and the wider immigration system to permit the provision of online classes in lieu of in-person tuition. Central to these measures and to govern this new type of provision, all ILEP providers are now required to deliver a minimum of at least 15 student contact hours online per week. This is in addition to a limit placed on the size of these online classes set at a maximum of 15 students per class.
As the response to the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the Department of Justice and Equality are keeping these measures under review. This work is informed by engagement with my own Department and with key sectoral stakeholders both bi-laterally and within the forum of the Covid-19 Working Group for the English language education sector.