A CORK TD is imploring the Government to reverse what he has described as a “dangerous initiative” to allow English Language Education (ELE) schools to resume in-person classes from tomorrow.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised the issue in the Dáil following concerns expressed by some in the sector.
On Monday, ELE schools received confirmation from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science that in-person classes are permitted to resume from July 19.
The Department said the decision follows “extensive planning” by the sectoral stakeholders of the Covid-19 working group for the ELE sector to prepare for the safe resumption of “limited, small group, in-person provision” to cater exclusively for the needs of the sector’s existing cohort of students.
Mr Barry said ELE schools should only reopen when there is a higher rate of vaccination within society and only when students have been given at least a months’ notice.
“English language students are, generally speaking, between the ages of 20 and 40.
“The overwhelming majority are unvaccinated.
“Many English language teachers are likewise unvaccinated.
Govt are putting profit before people in English Language Schools. Join the protest on Monday to fight back against this sudden, unsafe, & highly disruptive decision! pic.twitter.com/Wn74zQye6p— Mick Barry TD (@MickBarryTD) July 14, 2021
“One school that I’m aware of with 28 teachers has two that have been fully vaccinated to date, “he said.
“Bad and all as this situation is, it is even worse for the English language Stamp 2 students.
“These are the 10,000 English language students from outside of the EU.
“The law states that these students must attend 85% of classes if they are to be allowed to remain in the State.
“Failure to reach the 85% threshold means that they are liable to expulsion - to deportation from the country,” he continued.
Mr Barry said there is a “bitter irony” in that many of these students work in the hospitality sector poised for a further reopening later this month.
“They will be forced to give up their jobs or face the possibility of expulsion from the State,” Mr Barry said.
Whilst ELE schools have been given the option to remain closed, to provide blended learning or to continue operating wholly online, Mr Barry claimed that those that choose to reopen will be at a “competitive advantage”.
“That will place pressure on the unopened colleges to follow their unhealthy example and to and open up,” he said.
Trade Union Unite’s English Language Teachers’ branch is to hold a protest in Dublin on Monday highlighting its opposition to the Government’s decision.
Richie Browne, Regional Coordinating Officer for Unite, said its members have many concerns about the decision.
“These concerns were raised with the government’s working group, of which Unite English Language Teachers’ branch is a member, but they don’t appear to have been taken into account in any way,” he said.
Meanwhile, the English Language Students’ Union of Ireland (ELSU) said the Government’s decision to permit in-person classes to resume is particularly unfair to Stamp Two visa students.
“Following notice given late on Monday afternoon by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Science and Innovation, some schools had sent their Stamp Two visa students emails by Tuesday some saying ‘you must return to face to face classes to meet your study visa requirements'.
“The ELSU has warned that this will lead to a situation where thousands of frontline workers, many of whom are caregivers or working in the hospitality sector, would be forced to quit their jobs and relocate back to where their classes are, with less than a week’s notice, unless the Government’s decision is reversed.
“Most students and teachers feel more comfortable remaining online until everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated,” the union stated.
A spokesperson for the Department said that the resumption of in-person activity is subject to there being “no deterioration in the public health situation nor changes to public health advice/measures that would impact on this activity”.
“The resumption of in-person activity is a key stepping stone on the pathway to recovery for the ELE sector in Ireland.
“The Department looks forward to continued productive engagement with stakeholders to support the development of further plans which will enable the return of international student recruitment and the full re-opening of the sector in due course."