Return to school must be met with proper support and resources

05 January 2022

Labour education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on the Minister for Education to outline the additional covid supports and resources that will be put in place ahead of the return to school tomorrow. On November 16th, Deputy Ó Ríordáin sought a meeting between opposition spokespeople and the Minister which was not responded to. In light of this, Deputy Ó Ríordáin asked what mitigation measures will be put in place to support school communities.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Reopening schools is hugely important to the wellbeing of all children. We could not have had a re-run of last year with the most vulnerable children in the coldest months having to stay at home to be “safe”, often with no access to technology or relying on phones and data to continue their education.

“However, government has consistently failed to listen to or engage with the school communities and the unions that protect all children. Education has been a last thought for the government. They were slow to the mark on antigen testing advice, they did not look to provide HEPA filters in time and they did not engage with or listen to the sector when they warned about the substitution crisis.

“Opposition has continued to work with government throughout the pandemic. Despite this, the Minister didn’t even respond to my request for a meeting with all opposition education spokespeople when I wrote to her on November 16th. This is a shame because we know that the best policy response to the public health crisis comes when people work together and test different approaches.

“School communities and parents deserve to know exactly what supports and resources will be in place in schools tomorrow. It’s disappointing to hear the Minister say that higher grade medical masks will not be made available free of charge but instead will have to come from the capitation grant. This is deeply cynical, the Minister is asking schools to choose between fixing structural issues in the building or the health and safety of staff. We saw the same approach with HEPA filters and I hope we see a u-turn on the mask decision before tomorrow morning.

“At this stage, it’s clear that Leaving Cert 2022 will not be able to go ahead as “normal”. The Department must, without delay, make a decision on a hybrid Leaving Cert for this year. This virus will continue to impact the day to day learning of students. We have lived this experience twice already, and the sooner a formal announcement is made the better to bring certainty to students and teachers.

“None of us want to be in this position, but it is only fair to give students clarity now, and ensure that for the next five months there is a defined path in place for Leaving Cert students. By bringing certainty for students now, the Minister will remove any confusion for the rest of the school year by accepting again that the hybrid system of written exams and calculated grades will be needed again in 2022. Returning to the old rigid exam system that was last in place in 2019 will also be step backward when the system is in urgent need of radical reform.

“Children need to be at school and staff, teachers and SNAs need to be safe at work. The last minute panic is unfair on everyone when we knew of the potential impact of the new variant before schools closed in December. Rather than constantly firefighting in the education sector, we need to see leadership from the Minister and her Department.”

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