Children in special classes in primary schools and who attend special needs schools look set to return to the classroom on a phased basis from next Thursday.
Minister for Education Norma Foley and Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan today met with primary and special education stakeholders.
A phased return for children in special schools and a return to school for those in special classes in primary schools and children with significant additional needs in mainstream primary classes, looks set to begin on Thursday, January 21.
Minister Foley said: “The Government paused plans for a partial reopening last week recognising that the education partners were expressing concerns in relation to reopening on 11 January. The pause has given me an opportunity to listen to those concerns, to engage intensively with key stakeholders, with Public Health and with disability advocacy groups so that I can get a comprehensive picture of what we now need to do.
“A series of meetings with key stakeholders from the primary school and special school sector this week culminating in this morning’s meeting have been very positive. All parties share my objective to work together so that children with special educational needs, who find it very hard to engage with remote or online learning receive some face to face education in schools before a fuller reopening is possible.
She added that her Department is also working with post-primary stakeholders to address their concerns, adding that "post-primary schools present different logistical challenges if a partial return is to be possible".
"I very much hope that we can work together to set out a pathway for the return of all children at all levels of schooling at the start of February, subject of course to Government and public health consideration of what constitutes the safe movement of people at that point.
“I am aware that staff, parents and students across all levels of education are looking for very clear communication from our colleagues in the health sector to reaffirm that infection prevention and control measures in our schools are effective at this time."
Meanwhile, Minister of State Madigan said: “We all know the difficulties faced by students with special educational needs during periods of school closures. Schools provide vital support and structure. Distance learning and a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for every student.
"Previous closures saw students regress and lose vital skills. No one is in any doubt of the needs of these students to access learning provision in-person and I am pleased that we are working in partnership to address issues arising and to provide schools with flexibility to support children within an agreed framework for return."