School’s out for summer and still no plan for catching up on lost class time

30 June 2021
  • UK catch up fund over £1 billion
  • Italy targeting funding for children who struggled with remote working
  • Schools need a plan

Marking the end of the primary school year, Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on the Minister for Education to urgently outline her plans for a catch up scheme to offset the impact of school closures on young people. 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 Ríordáin said:

“The end of the primary school year is normally marked by sports days, class concerts and school tours. This year’s end of year celebrations were much more muted, after a very difficult year for children, their teachers, their parents and the school community. Unfortunately, this year’s sixth class will be entering secondary school in September having missed out on a significant amount of in-class teaching. Teachers played a heroic role during the pandemic pivoting to online teaching, but children missed out on so much of the social and extra-curricular parts of school from painting in the classroom, to speech and drama to sports days. These are the moments and memories that most of us treasure as adults, and this is the type of learning that the Labour Party had hoped would be addressed through a catch up scheme.

“My understanding was that the Minister had heard the calls of the Labour Party and would implement a Catch Up scheme for children throughout the summer months in recognition of the impact of school closures. However, there has been no plan or timeline forthcoming. In February, my colleague Senator Ivana Bacik called for a ‘Catch Up for Children’ scheme modelled on the UK programme.

“The UK Government recognises the profound impact of school closures, putting together a fund of over £1 billion to protect and support children. Our European colleagues, where schools were closed for shorter periods of time than Ireland, are also following suit. Italy will invest over €500 million in their children, keeping schools open and focusing on developing students’ social and creative skills with lessons focused on sports, photography and the arts. This funding will be targeted in locations where children have struggled the most with remote learning. Why doesn’t the Government want to do the same for our children?

“In February, we called on the Minister and the Department to carry out a forensic examination of the impact of the closure of schools on our children. This did not happen then, it is not happening now, and it’s entirely unclear if it will ever happen. The Labour Party estimate that a fund of €100 million would be required to 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.

“Since first calling for such a scheme, 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 doubling of funding available for July provision is welcome, but fundamentally misses the point that no aspect of children’s education experience should be lost and no child should be left behind. 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?

“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. Children transitioning from primary level to secondary level should have had the gap bridged by the State this summer. We simply cannot leave behind any other children. 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.”

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