Department of Education does not want students to continue with 'blended learning' longterm

While the department is developing contingency plans in case schools may have to close again due to the virus, its main priority is to reopen schools as “fully, normally and safely as possible.”
Department of Education does not want students to continue with 'blended learning' longterm

The Department of Education does not want blended learning, a mix of students learning remotely and at home, to continue long term, the department’s most senior official has told an Oireachtas committee.

While the department is developing contingency plans in case schools may have to close again due to the virus, its main priority is to reopen schools as “fully, normally and safely as possible.” 

That’s according to Seán Ó Foghlú, the secretary-general of the Department of Education, who addressed the Oireachtas Covid Committee this morning.

"I wouldn't assume that should a case arise in a school, it means a school closes because it will be done on a case-by-case basis," Mr Ó Foghlú said.

That call will be made by the health authorities, he added.

"We will now have a different regime in place as schools reopen, and they (the health authorities) may make a call to have a group, or class not attend."

Detailed guidelines, including instructions on how to maximise space in classrooms and corridors, and how to operate after school programmes, breakfast clubs, and ASD units, will be published by the end of this month, TDs heard.

A significant funding package will be needed to help schools cover the costs.

The department is “very conscious” of not putting an additional financial burden on schools, and is working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Ó Foghlú said.

Welfare and wellbeing supports, as well as easing the curriculum, are among the aspects currently being considered by the Department of Education.

The department is also considering the arrangements for the 2021 State exams.

A small number of schools are expected to experience “pinch-points” when it comes to reopening, TDs heard.

In response to questions put to him by Green Party TD Patrick Costello, Mr Ó Foghlú said that while the Department of Education is developing contingency plans in case blended learning is needed, it is not its priority.

“We do not want to continue with blended learning,” he said.

“The most important message is that we don’t want to continue with blended learning.

"We want to absolutely maximize attendance. We are planning for contingencies, depending on the virus and so on, but it's not something that we want.

It is quite clear that blended learning cannot and does not work for everyone and the role of attendance in schools is really, really vital.

“We know the impact of school closures."

Staffing and substitution is expected to pose an issue in September as the advice to teachers is to not attend schools if they have any symptoms of respiratory illness.

A change of culture around this will be vital, Mr Ó Foghlú said.

There will be a small number of staff members who are also at high-risk due to Covid and will not be able to attend school, Mr Ó Foghlú confirmed.

The Department of Education is working on plans to help with teacher supply, he added.

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