Wednesday, 10 March 2021
Department of Education and Skills
504. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her plans to ensure that fifth year students can be facilitated to catch up on class time lost due to school closures in 2021 and any associated gaps in the coverage of their curriculum in advance of leaving certificate 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12856/21]
My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since Monday 11 January 2021, all students, including students currently in fifth year, are engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.
The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a COVID-19 context. These are available at www.gov.ie/backtoschool.
The nature of distance learning, which was necessitated during the unprecedented closure of schools earlier last year, required educators to take on a range of approaches to support their pupils’ continuity of learning during that period. Assisted by Department-funded resources and supports, schools and teachers demonstrated great innovation in adapting to the unprecedented situation including the use of digital technologies and online learning platforms for teaching and learning.
Extensive guidance and supports have been and continue to be made available by my Department and its support services to support schools to plan for the transition to online and remote learning. Circular 0074/2020, ‘Communication/Teaching & Learning Platform’, was issued by the Department last year. In accordance with the circular, it became a requirement for all schools to have in place a communication/learning platform (while acknowledging that many schools have already put such platforms in place) that supports them to respond in the event of a partial or full school closure in the future, including the facilitation of some use of live or recorded video lessons where practicable.
The Circular includes links to a range of materials and supports developed by the Digital Technologies team of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), including information and resources for commonly used platforms for teaching, learning and assessment, short video tutorials exploring how digital platforms and tools can be used effectively for remote learning purposes and clarity regarding how chosen platforms can be effectively used for assessment and feedback purposes.
Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Educationand Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on www.gov.ie/backtoschool.
The www.gov.ie/backtoschool site also contains information on wellbeing supports for Leaving Certificate students. This includes a series of supports on managing wellbeing, coping with uncertainty and managing stress and anxiety, developed by the National Educational Psychological Service in my Department, to support students. The webpage has links to more individualised support for students to access, should these be needed. My Department worked with the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure the most appropriate services and resources are clearly signposted for students.