Written answers

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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97. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the supports in place for secondary schools in DEIS areas to cope with challenges of returning to school during the ongoing Covid-19 emergency period given that students from disadvantaged families have already been hard hit by Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23402/21]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The Covid-19 pandemic and associated school closures has impacted children and their families, especially those with special educational needs and at risk of educational disadvantage. To mitigate this, the Department provided a number of additional supports for children with Special Educational Needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage in 2020/21 school year. Additional guidance was provided for schools on how to provide for the continuity of schooling for these learners. Extensive support and advice for schools regarding the provision of remote learning was also made available through the Department’s support services and agencies, including for those pupils attending DEIS schools.

DEIS – Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools is the main policy initiative of my Department of Education to address educational disadvantage at school level. My Department will spend over €150million on supports for schools under the DEIS programme in 2021, which includes over €26 million for the School Completion Programme (SCP). This also includes in the region of €16.2 million which will be provided to schools in the form of a DEIS grant for the 2021/22 school year. It is a matter for each individual school to determine how best to use this funding, but it is intended to support the objectives of the DEIS programme, including retention, attendance, literacy and numeracy.

In March I announced an increase in the budget of the School Completion Programme and a reduction in the enrolment threshold for the allocation of an additional deputy principal in DEIS post-primary schools, from 700 to 600 students.

Tusla Education Support Service (TESS), which includes Home School Community Liaison Coordinators, Educational Welfare Officers and School Completion Programme staff, play a key role in supporting learners at risk of educational disadvantage and on supporting the return to school of all students. TESS staff continue to engage with students and families identified by schools as needing additional support, and will remain in ongoing contact with school principals to identify students who may need support.

Guidance documents have been provided by the Department to support teachers on the re-opening of schools. These documents advise teachers to take time to identify where students are at in their learning and to build on this as a starting point. Schools have been advised to use all available supports, both in-school and community-based, to promote a positive, solution-oriented approach that will support all pupils to engage in learning, to achieve, to learn and to progress in their education and to help minimise the impact on those at risk of educational disadvantage or arising from a special educational need.

Promoting wellbeing is a fundamental element of the Department’s overall plan to support school communities as we continue to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) of my Department is leading on supporting the wellbeing of schools communities at this time. The response to support the wellbeing of all within school communities requires a structured, psychosocial response which is compassionate and largely preventative and proactive. A whole-school team approach to planning is recommended in order to ensure that staff, students and parents feel safe and secure. This response is aligned with the HSE guidance on such responses, and based on the five key principles of promoting a sense of safety, calm, connectedness, self- and community-efficacy and hope.

Now that our schools have reopened and are settling back into their routines NEPS psychologists have an increased focus on both consultation and casework in schools with particular attention to the needs of individual students. Psychologists take a blended approach to the provision of casework to schools, working both remotely, and where appropriate in-school, depending on school protocols/plans and of the nature of need. This recognises that some aspects of casework will require the psychologist to work in the school, while other aspects of the work may be done remotely in order to minimise risk and maximise safety.

In order to support the alleviation of learning loss and the transition of learners back to in-class education an enhanced programme of summer provision for children with additional needs and those who are experiencing educational disadvantage, similar to what was provided in summer 2020 is being developed and the details of how it will operate will be worked through with the education partners in the coming weeks.

My Department has continued engage with public health and the education partners to ensure that all schools, including DEIS schools, are supported as schools have reopened and learners have returned to the classroom.


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