Written answers

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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526. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she has engaged with an organisation (details supplied) on provisions to provide extensions and supports for researchers whose research was affected by Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18825/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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In April 2020, the main research funders issued a joint statement providing guidance for researchers in relation to their funded awards and research during the Covid-19 crisis.

In relation to the organisation in question, it has provided practical guidance on 3 mechanisms that awardees can avail of to extend the duration of their awards: No-Cost Extensions, Budget Reallocations, and Costed Extensions.  No-Cost Extensions and Budget Reallocations may be requested on all of its live awards, and these requests are being processed on an ongoing basis. The third mechanism, Costed Extensions, extends the duration and value of an award and is currently only applicable to live awardees whose funding duration ends in 2020. The call to researchers for Costed Extensions from the organisation in question closed on 19 June 2020.

Requests for Costed Extensions have been considered for awards where the research has been seriously compromised as a result of Covid-19. The organisation considers each request on a case-by-case basis. Where clear evidence of serious compromise has been provided, and where the awardee has demonstrated that the use of the first two extension mechanisms on their own cannot ensure the successful completion of the funded award, the request for a Costed Extension can be considered.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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527. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if additional funding will be made available for research relating to Covid-19 including the wider societal impact; if such research will include the arts and humanities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18826/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The Irish Research Council (IRC) and the Health Research Boardvcollaboratedvto fund a Covid-19 Rapid Response Call earlier this year. This call included 3 separate strands, targeting medical countermeasures, health service readiness and social and policy countermeasures to Covid-19. Following international peer review, 21 projects were selected for funding with a total investment of €3.4 million. The funding was made available by repurposing an element of the Council’s existing budget.  Should the budget further permit,  the Council maybe able to fund further research relevant to Covid-19, while also broadening its scope.  

To leverage additional funding for COVID-related research, the IRC has been actively promoting the role of existing programmes – notably, its COALESCE Research Fund – as a mechanism through which the next phase of the government’s response to Covid-19 might be channelled. The interdisciplinary strand of COALESCE would potentially represent an effective means for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences researchers to lead collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects relevant to Covid-19 with partner-colleagues from STEM disciplines.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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528. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to increase the number of special needs assistants upon the return to school in September 2020 in view of the fact that the system of shared access of children with additional needs to an SNA, sometimes across several classrooms, will guarantee an increased transmission rate of Covid-19 specifically within a vulnerable group of children and young persons in addition to the wider school community; the number anticipated to meet the needs of social distancing for children with additional needs and their SNAs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18848/20]

Photo of Josepha MadiganJosepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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The interim public health advice received by my Department sets out the key public health requirements that will be required for a safe full reopening of schools in late August/ September and the measures that will be required to achieve this.   

This public health advice will underpin ongoing engagements with education partners and stakeholders in terms of planning and providing guidance for schools in relation to logistical, curricular and wellbeing arrangements. The advice also contains important measures required for infection prevention and control to ensure a full return to school is safe for children and staff.   

At present my Department is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the requirements to provide funding to schools for measures such as enhanced cleaning regimes and PPE. My Department has also arranged for a drawdown framework to be established to enable schools purchase hand-sanitisers and PPE for use in the school and classroom. The procurement process for this framework has already commenced and it is intended these materials will be available in early August.

My Department’s ongoing work with education partners and other key stakeholders on guidance for re-opening schools is aimed at reducing the burden on schools at a local level by providing central guidance and supports to the greatest extent possible by the end of July in order to allow time for schools to implement the necessary arrangements locally.

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