Friday, January 15, 2021

Thousands of children with additional needs are due to return to special schools on alternate days from next Thursday under detailed plans agreed with unions.

Children in special classes and children with “significant additional needs” in mainstream classes, on the other hand, will be able to return on a full-time basis from next Thursday.

Mainstream schools will also be permitted to provide for in-school tuition for certain vulnerable or disadvantaged students, once they have capacity to do so. This may include, for example, students at risk due to development issues, features of the family or community life or other facts which contribute to educational disadvantage.

The move means thousands of special needs assistants and resource teachers will be due back in primary and special schools on a full-time basis.

Mainstream teachers, however, will not be required back in the classroom until schools reopen generally.

Details of the plans, seen by The Irish Times, are contained in Department of Education letters sent to primary school principals on Friday.

Interim measures

Responding to the announcement, autism charity AsIAm said it welcomed the interim measures.

However, the charity’s chief executive Adam Harris said children in special schools need to be back to school on a full-time basis as soon as possible.

In addition, he said second level pupils with additional needs urgently need in-class tuition.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said while it supported the reopening of school for children with additional needs, this will require evidence that it is safe to do so.

“While supporting the continuity of learning remotely is far from ideal, we hope to be able to return to our classrooms fully, but it remains to be seen if the public health landscape improves enough to enable the resumption of classroom-based learning,” said INTO general secretary John Boyle.

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