As schools reopen where is the Catch up scheme for Children?

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
23 August 2021
  • Minister indicated package would be available in the Autumn.
  • Tánaiste told Dáil in June it would be published in the coming weeks.

With schools reopening in the days ahead, Labour Education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has again called on the Minister to clarify when the ‘catch-up’ scheme would be launched after she indicated in early June that the level of funding and details were being finalised.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“On the 3rd June the Minister for Education confirmed she was working on a multi-million ‘catch-up’ fund for children to address the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on learning. We were told that the additional provision would be made when schools commenced the 2021/2022 year. No further details of what measures she would propose were made available at the time.

“The Tánaiste told me in the Dáil on the 17th June it would be published in the coming weeks, and I directly questioned the Minister for Education on the 1st July and she said in reply that she hoped to be in a position to announce it shortly. Since then nothing further has emerged.

“This is an issue we in the Labour Party have been raising since the start of the year, and we are now on the verge of starting another academic year but still no details have been published. I had, together with my colleague Ivana Bacik called for a proposed €100 million ‘Catch Up for Children’ fund modelled on the UK scheme that was worth over €1 billion.

“Key questions need to be answered about whether this will still now happen, and if so, what the level of financial support that will be made available, how the extra resources will be targeted at those most in need, and when the measures will become available?

“The longer we wait for this ‘catch-up scheme, the more work it will be required to do. Early intervention is critical to ensuring children are supported. We need a plan to offset the impact of school closures on young people and avoid further damage down the line.

“My understanding was that the Minister had heard the calls of the Labour Party and would implement a ‘Catch Up’ scheme for children. However, there has been no plan or timeline forthcoming.

“The UK Government recognised 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 many months that students missed out on in class learning. We need to invest in the repair work now.”

ENDS

Dáil Questions to the Minister for Education, 1st July 2021

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Can I ask the Minister about the commitment she gave a month ago on a catch-up fund? I was appreciative of the Minister’s comments that Senator Bacik and I have been campaigning on this since last February and the Minister made a commitment on 3 June that a catch-up fund would be announced to enable children, not just in terms of a summer programme but over the course of the next year, to repair some of the damage that has been caused by the lack of in-school teaching. There was teaching and learning going on but as the Minister knows, much of it was outside of school and done remotely. Can I get an update on the Minister’s intention to announce and fund a catch-up fund for next year?

Minister for Education: I can confirm that we are working on a support fund and support resource for schools in acknowledgement of the position in which we find ourselves in the pandemic and the loss on occasion of in-person teaching and learning. From the point of view of school staff I want to acknowledge that this was notwithstanding the remote learning that was provided by schools. I am conscious of the importance of in-person teaching and learning. I am also conscious of the need to make provision for supports for the new school year and that is a priority. I am pleased to say that we have made significant advancement in it. It is a body of work that requires resourcing and that demands imagination and appreciation of where the specifics are to make resources available to schools. I hope to be in a position to make an announcement on it shortly. I acknowledge that the Deputy has referenced the summer provision plan. For the first time that is open to all schools with a budget of €40 million and there has been an enormously positive uptake in it. I look forward to being in a position to be able to make an announcement shortly on the broader plan for school return. I cannot give the Deputy the specific date but it is on its way.

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