With remote learning set to remain in place for at least the next six weeks, decreasing daily cases of the virus will play a key role in the Government's plan to reopen schools on a phased basis.
Beginning with children with special educational needs, the Government plans to reopen schools for in-person learning across February and March.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has confirmed the Government will be monitoring daily figures ahead of any wider reopenings. The number of daily cases is halving every 10 days, he said.
"It's reasonable to project in about 10 days' time if we keep doing what we are doing, we could be down to about 500, 600 cases a day, and in 20 days' time half that again.
The reason the Government plans to reopen schools on a phased basis is due to the new, more transmissible variants, he added.
"We don't want to take that risk of one million children moving all on the one day," he said, adding that reopening is "something we are very keen to agree with everyone in education".
Talks are continuing this week between the Department of Education, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), and Fórsa on the phased reopening of special education.
This followed a breakdown last week that saw plans for a partial return of in-school learning for children with special educational needs abandoned.
However, the extended school closures raise further questions over the arrangements for this year's Leaving Cert exams, and no decision on the matter has been made yet.
"Obviously the Leaving Cert cohort will be provided for," Taoiseach Micheál Martin said, adding that Education Minister Norma Foley and the education partners are being given "space" to work issues out.
Last Friday, the advisory group on the 2021 State exams said it was beginning to explore "further possible options for the examinations".
As well as students, teachers, and parents, the group includes representatives from the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
It also includes officials from the Department of Further and Higher Education and the Department of Education.
In a response to a recent parliamentary question, Ms Foley said her department was “acutely aware” of the disruption caused to students due to school closures.
“It remains Government's intention to operate the conventional 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations, with appropriate public health measures in place," she said.
This view is shared by the SEC, which has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the exams.
A series of changes to the assessments for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert exams was announced last summer. The measures put in place for the November examinations will be considered as part of the planning for examinations in 2021, she added.