Minister for Education Norma Foley has addressed the Oireachtas Education Committee about the full return of students to primary and secondary schools.
The Fianna Fáil minister outlined the Department of Education's plans to hold the Leaving Cert exams this summer as well as the operation of a calculated grades system.
Committee members also heard the Minister's response to their report on the impact of Covid-19 on primary and secondary education.
Minister Foley highlighted yesterday's return of Leaving Cert students and the first four years of primary school students to class, as well as the full in-class provision of lessons for special schools, previously operating at 50% capacity.
The phased return of more students to classes will depend on progress made in reducing community transmission of the coronavirus, Minister Foley said, while praising efforts to date for the phased return of students beginning in February.
Outlining this phased return in her opening remarks, the Education Minister said: "Over the next number of weeks, we hope to see even more students return to schools, including 260,000 primary school students in the more senior classes return on March 15 together with fifth year students at post primary level.
"And, finally, subject to continued progress in maintaining reduced community transmission levels, the remaining post primary students return on April 12 following the traditional Easter break."
Minister Foley is expected to get a grilling over plans for the calculated grade system following errors in last year's replacement system after the State Examinations were cancelled due to the pandemic risk.
She has told the committee plans this year will differ compared to last year and that more guidance will be issued from her Department to students and schools in the coming weeks. This will take place alongside any new legislative amendments that need to happen.
Minister Foley said: "There are differences to the arrangements in 2021 when compared to last year. Firstly, a full suite of examinations operated by the SEC will be run – starting with the oral and practical components in the coming weeks – subject to prevailing public health advice.
"Also, the accredited grades system this year will be ultimately completed by the SEC with my Department carrying out the preliminary stages of the work pending necessary legislative amendments."