Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that schools and parents have been left in an impossible position due to the lack of planning and communication by the Government for the return to school.
The Cork South-Central TD said that it was apparent that there was now a need for major investment for remote access and tackling educational disadvantage when schools return.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said;
“Minister Joe McHugh said today that not all students will be back in the normal way in September due to social distancing. Aside from stating the plainly obvious, it is the closest any parent or teacher has heard to detail on how schools will return in September.
“Any school I have spoken to in recent weeks has received no contact whatsoever about reopening on the 28th of May. School buildings have been closed since the 12th March. That is just unacceptable.
“Even in ordinary circumstances, schools would be in the midst of preparation for the next school year at the moment. Right now, that just isn’t possible because schools don’t know what policies and procedures they might be expected to put in place.
“A return to school-based learning is important, particularly for those with additional needs, or in areas of educational disadvantage, but we need to do this safely, and with a plan. We also know that we will have to live with Covid-19 for some time to come and we know a vaccine is not going to appear today or tomorrow.
“Schools need to know how many rooms will be needed and they need to know if they will need additional teachers, SNAs or other staff. Most of our school buildings are not fit to hold the numbers they hold generally, not to mind with social distancing. They need to know what rules in terms of hygiene there will be, and whether they will receive any additional funding or support for cleaning or PPE and so on.
“So it is clear that teachers and school staff will need support and information. Likewise, parents will need reassurance.
“But right now they have nothing. In that context I am glad that the Minister has agreed with what I called for in the Dáil last Wednesday, and again on Monday, which is for a roadmap for education. That said I had expected and hoped that the department would have been at a much more advanced stage than this.
“It seems that planning is at a very early stage, has only now started, and the reality is that parents and teachers are still hugely in the dark.
“Minister McHugh needs to communicate with schools in the next few days and give some indication of how schools should be planning. The frustration that is there with many teachers in particular is enormous, they have heard nothing.
“It is also obvious that the resources students have for remote learning need major investment, both in terms of devices and internet connection, if this is to become a significant feature. The schemes the Government have announced to date have only scratched the surface, and we know that children have lost out due to the digital divide.
“If the Government wants blended learning then families and teachers need to be given the tools to do so.
“Likewise the gap in educational disadvantage is, I fear, turning into a chasm. This will need a dedicated strategy to ensure children do not fall even further behind.”