Summer provision without ‘Catch Up’ programme fundamentally misunderstands damage of pandemic

11 May 2021

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin described the announcement of summer provision without a targeted ‘Catch Up’ fund as dangerous and damaging. Deputy Ó Ríordáin said the fact that the Minister is doubling funding for a summer programme fundamentally misunderstands the impact of the pandemic on children throughout the country. Calling for the introduction of Labour’s proposed €100 million ‘Catch Up for Children’ fund, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said that failure to make up for lost time in a targeted manner now will lead to further damage down the line.

Deputy Ó Ríodráin said:

“The decision to double funding for summer provision is hugely welcome, however it is a sticking plaster on the profoundly damaging experience of students as a result of the pandemic. We have leaving cert students this year who effectively missed out on almost two terms of in class learning over the course of a two year cycle. They are the lucky few managed to stay in the school system, but many children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, will have slipped through the cracks without completing their education. While we await the publication of official figures for 2019-2020, anecdotal evidence suggests that there may have been an increase in the number of early school leavers during this period and that this may be attributable to school closures in 2020. The long-term effects of this troubling situation will worsen, the longer it is left unaddressed.

“What is needed now is a forensic examination of the impact of the closure of schools on our students. Children have missed out on a whole range of important in class learnings that doubling summer provision funding will not tackle. What about the lost hours on extra-curricular activities, on socialising with friends in the yard? A summer programme will not amend class sizes, it will not ensure all children’s literacy rates are where they should be. In order to make up for all the education and related benefits that our children have missed out on, we in Labour estimate that a €100m ‘Catch-Up for Children’ scheme is required. Since first calling for such an initiative in early February, we have been inundated with messages from parents and teachers who have told of the severe regression that they have observed in many children. Unfortunately, Ireland’s experience appears to mirror that of other jurisdictions in that the negative effect of school closures has been exacerbated by pre-existing inequalities; vulnerable children and young people, those from socioeconomic disadvantage and those with disabilities or other additional needs are struggling to keep up with their studies the most.

“The Minister’s announcement is seeking headlines rather than actually seeking to improve outcomes for children. My colleague Senator Ivana Bacik urged Government in February to follow the lead of the UK and implement a fund to target the consequences of school closures. The UK Government recognises the profound impact of school closures, putting £1 billion to protect and support children. A ‘Catch Up for Children’ fund would target recovery in lost learning, focusing on one to one and small group tutoring programmes, as well as supporting the return to school and development for disadvantaged children in early years settings, as well as summer provision for those pupils who need it the most. But before this, we need an assessment of the damage caused to ensure that no child is left behind.

“The Minister needs to understand that schools can’t be expected to just turn the lights back on in September and pretend that nothing has happened. We need to make up for the four months that students missed out on in class learning. We need to invest in the repair work now. We cannot put a price on ensuring that all children in Ireland are given a fair start.”

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