Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Education and Skills
English Language Training Organisations
285. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to serious concerns relating to the quality of online classes being delivered by many English language schools as a result of social distancing measures, many of which are flagrant breaches of the interim list of eligible programmes, ILEP; if he will consider in conjunction with the Minister for Justice and Equality, implementing temporary regulations similar to the ILEP to ensure English language students receive quality online classes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11407/20]
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 including concerns surrounding the standards of the online provision of classes.
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 English language students to continue their studies while in the State, the Department of Justice and Equality has introduced a range of measures within the criteria of the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) and the wider immigration system to permit the provision of online classes in lieu of in-person tuition. As part of these measures and to govern this new type of provision, all ILEP listed 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. Key existing ILEP requirements remain in place including that the academic staff who deliver these classes must be appropriately qualified. These requirements and compliance obligations have been communicated directly to all providers currently listed on the ILEP in addition to be published online.
The concerns surrounding the standards of online provision have been raised by learner advocates at the Covid-19 Working Group for the English language education sector established by my Department. This 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 alongside the learner advocates. At its most recent meeting, the working group was advised of the new ILEP measures adopted by the Department of Justice and Equality as outlined above. In addition, the provider representative bodies in attendance undertook to work together to develop guidelines for their members to address the concerns raised and to improve standards for the delivery of online provision. They further undertook to share these guidelines with learner advocates and the wider working group as they are developed.
There are no plans for the introduction of further regulatory measures in relation to the online provision of English language education. The effect of the measures outlined will be kept under review as the response to the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve and as this sector moves towards its re-opening.