Written answers

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Further and Higher Education

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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161. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the number of learners that can be facilitated in accordance with public health guidelines in both further education and higher education settings; if specific arrangements have been put in place to complete courses in the further education area that were interrupted by Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25762/20]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Risk mitigation plans across the FET and HE sectors are informed by the size and layout of buildings, the numbers of learners enrolled, the types of awards and educational opportunities available, the transport links available and the resources available (including human resources). Each FET centre and HE institution has carried out a risk assessment on their college/centre and put protective measures in place in line with national guidelines and best available evidence. As such, the specific number of learners that can be facilitated in any learning environment must be assessed on a case by case basis by the individual institution.

The Department, in consultation with stakeholders in the further and higher education sector, have developed a three-pillar series of guides for returning to education and training and for shaping the work of institutions and providers as we continue to move through the pandemic. These three pillars are –

(i) A high level Further and Higher Education Roadmap which provides an overview of the phased return to Further and Higher Education

(ii) A Covid-19 Adaptation Framework which provides a structure, guidance and support for further and higher education institutions and providers that does not end with re-opening. This is to assist them in consistently and collaboratively continuing to adapt to meeting the challenges posed by this pandemic.

(iii) Practical Guidance for Further and Higher Education for Returning to On-Site Activity in 2020. This guidance was prepared on a consultative basis with sector stakeholders and with the assistance of public health expertise. This guidance was published on July 22nd, and was supplemented by more detailed campus specific implementation guidelines developed by public health experts within the Higher Education sector, published on 5 August. Implementation guidelines were developed by Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) and SOLAS for Further Education and Training Institutions and published on 11 August 2020.

In response to the COVID 19 emergency, the Further Education and Training (FET) sector demonstrated a swift and appropriate response making specific provision for learners engaged in their programmes and nearing completion of their awards, with adjusted teaching strategies and alternative assessments supporting learners remotely wherever possible. In some cases, where alternative assessment approaches could not be created without compromising the integrity of the award standard or where access to specialist equipment for the learner to complete assessments is necessary, ETB institutions communicated with these learners on the individual approaches being undertaken to enable them progress.

All FET Institutions re-opened for staff on 31 August. Phased reopening for learners has been occurring throughout September with service delivery commencing on or before 29 September in all cases.

FET institutions planned for returning to education and training taking a phased return of learners into consideration. Priority was given to learners awaiting assessment who have their course substantially completed, to those who require additional tuition and practical instruction in order to complete their FET programme and to continuing learners, before the enrolment of new learners.


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