Harris: Delaying stage 4 of reopening 'increases' chances of return to school in September

Harris: Delaying stage 4 of reopening 'increases' chances of return to school in September

Simon Harris, Minister for Higher Education (L) and Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, pictured at the launch of a new strategy for the further education sector. Picture: Maxwells

The delay in the country exiting the last stages of the lockdown means that schools and colleges will be in a better position to reopen in September.

That’s according to Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education.

Mr Harris was speaking at the launch of a new five-year strategy for further education and training which aims to increase the number of school-leavers opting for courses in the sector.

On Wednesday, the Government confirmed that the country would not be proceeding to phase four of exiting the lockdown until August 10, amid fears about the spread of Covid-19 in recent weeks.

“I think the decision to not proceed with stage four actually increases the ability to make sure we get our kids back to education,” Mr Harris said.

“I think it would have been a grossly irresponsible thing to ignore public health advice and move forward with phase four in spite of the advice, knowing that we have a huge body of work to do to get our kids back to school, and our learners back to college as well.” 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it is a major priority to get everyone back to school, he added.

Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, is leading a huge body of work to get schools reopened, and Mr Harris is working with the third-level sector, he added.

His department expects to publish a framework for the third-level sector this month, he said, adding that how each institution reopens will depend on its physical set-up and individual circumstances.

It’s critical for everyone to follow the public health advice in the coming weeks, he added. 

“We don’t want to see a situation in September where the virus has re-emerged at the same time we’re trying to get our children back to school.” 

His comments come as stakeholders on reopening primary and post-primary schools met again this week to discuss plans to reopen.

Talks involved the planning of different types of classroom scenarios that might arise in the new school year, and around substitute cover for teachers.

Significant funding is expected to be required, with the Department of Finance to sign-off on any final plans. 

Detailed instructions are expected to be published by the Department of Education by the end of the month.

The new five-year strategy for further education and training, ‘Future FET: Transforming Learning’, will see students able to pick further education courses alongside their CAO.

Led by SOLAS, the strategy aims to give school leavers more options, improve digital literacy, and embed mental health and wellbeing in further education.

Traditional areas of further education and training like healthcare, personal services, and construction will be built upon but climate change and sustainable development will also be a critical focus.

As well as a range of apprenticeship opportunities, the strategy has a strong focus on increasing diversity and aims to increase the number of women in the workforce and provide access to people with disabilities. 

“At the heart of this strategy is inclusion and serving the diverse needs of our people including people with disabilities, new migrants, Travellers, the long-term unemployed, ex-offenders,” Mr Harris said.

With thousands of people currently out of work due to Covid-19, further education will also play a role in reshaping the economy, Mr Harris believes.

"This strategy will offer better opportunities for people and will help the economy rebuild and recover," he added. 

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up