Education Minister warns of 'massive' cost to reopen schools

There will be a "massive" cost when it comes to reopening schools fully, the Minister for Education has warned.
Education Minister warns of 'massive' cost to reopen schools
Education Minister Joe McHugh, who has warned the Dáil of the "massive" cost to reopen schools fully.
Education Minister Joe McHugh, who has warned the Dáil of the "massive" cost to reopen schools fully.

There will be a "massive" cost when it comes to reopening schools fully, the Minister for Education has warned.

Talks are underway between the Department of Education and the Department of Public Expenditure. The Department of Education intends on proceeding with a full return to school in September, according to Minister Joe McHugh.

"There will be a massive cost in relation to schools returning fully and having the proper guidelines in place," he said.

This will include the mandatory infrastructure to keep staff and students safe.

Further guidance around voluntary summer programmes for children are expected to be sent to schools tomorrow.

There will not be a requirement for strict social distancing for children with special education needs as this would neither be "practical or possible", Mr McHugh told the Dáil.

The Department of Education does not expect there will be a significant need for PPE when schools reopen, he added.

There is an urgent need for the department to research the learning losses of students caused by the extended school closures, according to Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil education spokesman.

Emerging evidence from the UK suggests that students have done a lot less learning at home than they would have done in the classroom, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers, he added.

It would appear that there has been a scaling down of the ambition by the Minister, when it comes to the number of children who will attend summer programmes. That is according to Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Sinn Féin education spokesman, who said issues around insurance and transport to and from the summer programs remain an issue for many parents. He added that some groups of children remain excluded.

"I know many parents of children with Down Syndrome were very disappointed to see their children in mainstream classes excluded. It's a growing cohort, and the children who are transitioning to post-primary, is another sizable cohort," he added.

One insurance provider will not provide cover to schools for the summer programmes, according to Peader Tobin of Aontú. This is due to the lack of guidance around the scheme, he added.

Meanwhile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour education spokesman, warned that thousands of children will go hungry over the summer unless school meal schemes are extended.

Domestic violence and additions have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Many families will be under increased economic strain, Mr Ó Ríordáin added.

"There is an absolute bone-crushing and spirit-crushing humiliation that goes with hunger. It's not just the lack of a meal. Resentment can build. It has a deeply wounding effect on a child who goes hungry."

"I'm asking you to be an ally in this," he said to Mr McHugh, asking him to work with Regina Doherty, the Minister for Social Protection, in the coming days before the next government is formed.

"It would be at the most a €10 million decision."

Mr McHugh said he would discuss the matter with Ms Doherty.

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