The Tanaiste is "quietly confident" a phased reopening of schools will begin next month, a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party has heard.
Leo Varadkar told his TDs and Senators on Wednesday night of his belief that schools will be able to return on a phased basis beginning in February and continuing into March.
Students with special education needs are first in line to return when schools eventually reopen.
The Tánaiste also told his colleagues that the country may move to Level 4 restrictions on March 5, if the conditions allow for it.
Mr Varadkar said the country may go from Level 5 to Level 4, or "Level 4 with modifications", similar to the manner in how the country emerged from the first wave last year, according to sources in the meeting.
Mr Varadkar also told the meeting "it was important to emphasise that following this week's measures there is no silver bullet to eliminate Covid from Ireland".
The Fine Gael leader said international travel accounts for 1% or less of Covid-19 cases in the country, but he would not rule out any new strategy to deal with the pandemic.
He highlighted measures taken in 2020, including closing public houses and schools, which he said would not have been countenanced before, but action had to be taken.
He told party members that when tackling coronavirus, a lot of humility is required.