Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Special Educational Needs
117. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the plan in place for in-school teaching in relation to children in ASD classes in mainstream schools to ensure that those with additional needs are catered for in the event of a further school closures; if such plans have been agreed to by all of the education partners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [53547/21]
In line with the Government’s plan COVID-19: Reframing the Challenge, Continuing Our Recovery and Reconnecting the rest of our society and economy is now fully reopened as we learn to live with Covid-19. It remains a key objective of the plan for living with COVID-19 that our children and school staff can attend school safely. Further school closures are not envisaged during this phase of the pandemic.
I am aware that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated schools closures have had adverse consequences for many children and their families. The impact on children with special educational needs has been greatest.
For this reason, my Department has prioritised support for this vulnerable group through the provision of additional supports, additional guidance for schools and new and enhanced education programmes.
Pupils with special educational needs were prioritised for an early return to in-school teaching and learning earlier this year.
While school buildings were closed, these students had access to a Supplementary Programme which provided additional one-to-one tuition or care support in their homes up until the end of April.
A significantly expanded Summer Programme was offered during the summer vacation period. This programme put an emphasis on supporting children with special educational needs to re-engage with education, rebuild their confidence and increase motivation, promote their wellbeing and inclusion and to help ensure that they could transition to their planned educational placements in September 2021. A home-based strand was also available to pupils with complex needs where their school was not in a position to run a programme.
Ensuring that schools can operate safely has been a key priority for Government. The Department of Education has an ongoing close working relationship with the Department of Health and the HSE throughout the period of the pandemic in the context of implementing important infection prevention control measures in schools to ensure that they can operate safely. Each school is required to have a COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in line with public health advice. The infection prevention and control measures in place in schools have worked very effectively to prevent and control Covid-19 in schools and remain in place for this school year.
Public health has reviewed the measures put in place to ensure safe operation of schools and is satisfied that these infection prevention and control measures, when implemented correctly and adhered to, will continue to keep the school community safe. The Department will continue to work closely with public health officials and the education stakeholders in respect of the safe operation of schools during Covid-19.