Holding a traditional Leaving Cert this summer is still the Government’s “firm objective” despite schools remaining closed until February, education minister Norma Foley has said.
Earlier this evening, the ASTI directed its members not to engage with the Department of Education’s plan to reopen schools to Leaving Cert students from next Monday due to “health and safety concerns”.
This triggered an announcement from the Department confirming all schools, including special education schools would remain closed for the rest of the month.
Speaking on RTÉs Prime Time, Minister Foley did not deviate from her belief that the Leaving Cert should be sat in the traditional sense this summer, declaring it the “firm objective” of all partners in education that this occurs.
The Minister rejected union claims that they were not consulted before an announcement was made and said she met with all education stakeholders and public health representatives on Monday.
She said the decision was only made to reopen for Leaving Cert students after seeking public health guidance and said the unions were given “concrete public health advice” on Monday at this meeting.
Minister Foley said these representatives informed the unions the partial reopening of schools for Leaving Cert students and for students of special education schools “was absolutely acceptable and absolutely doable”.
Ms Foley said she believes in “moving forward” and says she will engage with unions tomorrow with a view to ensuring teachers feel safe to return to the classroom after January 31.
“These are the dilemmas and challenges that a government face in the face of a more challenging international pandemic.
“I still believe that children with additional challenges and children with complex needs, particular emphasis should be placed on their needs in a pandemic. Equally so, the Leaving Cert students I felt were deserving of particular consideration given that it is a very safe environment.
Minister Foley said she was acutely aware of how hard the first lockdown in April was for children with special and additional needs and said she was “very aware that many of these children struggled hugely, and of the trauma their parents and guardians faced.
“It was my intention that this time around, those children and their parents would be accommodated by a reopening of the facilities that provide education for children with additional needs.”
“I know from my own experience in teaching that in particular, the Leaving Cert students are much more confident when they have a one-to-one engagement with the teacher and for that reason accommodation was being made to reopen schools.
Minister Foley reiterated the longstanding public health advice that schools, in themselves, are safe places for students.
Ms Foley says she has flagged the possibility of moving teachers up the rank to be vaccinated but admitted it “was not within my gift” to decide on the ranking.