Taoiseach Micheál Martin has confirmed that the Government is pressing ahead with plans to reopen schools nationwide next week, in spite of concerns about rising numbers of Covid 19.
During a visit to Nagle Community College in Cork, where Mr Martin was given a tour of the facility and information on health and safety measures, the Taoiseach emphasised that the development of children was paramount.
"I am very conscious that as Taoiseach of this country we owe it to the children and the young people to enable them to have a proper quality learning experience and education experience," he said. "We are going ahead with the school opening. I think we have taken steps now which will hopefully have an impact on (Covid) numbers.
"This morning I wanted to see at first hand myself the types of changes that are being made to schools in the various school settings to facilitate the re-opening of schools I am very impressed here by Nagle Community College – very interesting to see the computer rooms and the use of Perspex coming down out of the ceiling – evidence of the can- do attitude of teachers and education staff across the board in just getting to grips with this.
"I have always been deeply concerned about the loss of so much school time early in the year. I think it’s very very important that we do everything we can to enable children to come back to school safely. It’s also about taking personal responsibility – everyone here will get their personal PPE packs on arrival.“
The Taoiseach said that "evolve and adapt" will be the key watch words in relation to the school year.
"I must pay tribute to the teachers, SNA, the schools staffs and principals across the country for really working quietly and effectively over the last number of weeks to get their classrooms and schools ready.
"What’s important – I know as a former educationalist myself and as a parent, the most fundamental thing in life is the education experience for a child."
The Taoiseach said there won't be serial testing in schools.
“The key is prevention," he said. "We want people to reduce their mixing with other people and to keep your contacts low and keep social distance and that's what exactly planned here for re-opening with each teacher having their own individual packs which they will require for teaching.
"We have worked with the public health authorities and their advice has been very strong. We will evolve and adapt as advices come our way."
The Taoiseach says he understands the anxiety of parents about sending their children back to school.
"That is why I came here this morning and that is why I keep in touch with many, both parents and in the education community to see first hand how the schools are preparing and adapting. This has to be about participation in education in a safe way. “
Principal of Nagle Community College Jim O'Sullivan was keen to reassure parents of pupils in his school about the safety of their children.
"I look at my cleaners, caretakers, admin staff and all the SNA's they have been fantastic in preparing us for reopening and I am really looking forward to it," he said. "What I am saying all the time is that we need to be calm, we need to communicate clearly with each other.
"If we can be be allowed go about this process in a very calm measured controlled way I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to work."