Education Minister Joe McHugh is urging schools and teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) to make themselves available to run summer programmes for children with special educational needs and those suffering disadvantage.
Thousands of pupils would benefit if the programmes run, but it will depend on availability and willingness of schools, teachers, SNAs and bus escorts to offer to support them.
It is 12 weeks since schools closed and another 12 weeks before they are due to re-open for the new years and there is concern at the impact the extended absence will have on these groups.
A number of programmes usually run in the summer months, on a voluntary basis for the most vulnerable pupils, to bridge the gap between the end of one school year and the start of another .
About 10,000 children, mainly primary pupils, generally benefit from what is known as July Provision, for children with autism or severe/profound intellectual disability and advocacy groups have been pressing for certainty that it will run this year.
Usually, about 30pc of pupils availing of the programme are catered for in schools and, where that is not possible, grants are paid for 40 hours home provision, over four weeks, by a registered teacher.
It is hoped that if programme runs this year, it will also expand to include other categories of children with special needs.
There are also a number of summer programmes for children suffering educational disadvantage.
The Departments of Education and Health have been working on a plan to support these pupils during the summer and discussions are ongoing with representatives bodies such as unions and school management associations.
Mr McHugh told the Dáil today that he wanted a summer education programmes to run, “recognising that students with special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage need to be prioritised.”
He said that “regression in their learning and transitioning to the next educational setting is a real concern for some of these students.
“It is generally acknowledged that disadvantaged pupils are at more risk of disengaging in a remote learning environment relative to their peers, and may fail to make successful transition to a more senior.”
The minister acknowledged that planning for summer education programmes is difficult in the current circumstances and a number of issues were being examined.
He said that the running of any school-based programme would need to be informed by public health advice and the availability and willingness of schools, teachers, SNAs and bus escorts to offer to help support the programme.
Other key issues were the availability of transport to and from schools and the willingness of parents to allow their children attend such a programme particularly children with significant health conditions, he said.
The minister said he knew that principals, teachers and SNAs have already done much since school closures to help support their students, particularly those with special educational needs and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But he went on to urge teachers and SNAs who could do it, “to think seriously about supporting a summer programme which will make a meaningful difference to their most vulnerable students.
“The length of school closure has been a long one, a lot longer than what we might have hoped for. Providing an opportunity for children to participate in summer provision could provide a really important opportunity to reconnect with schooling and offer an important structure which may help towards a fuller return to school in the autumn.”
The minister said he would be returning to Cabinet next week in relation to the provision of a summer programme.