Stakeholder consultation required if schools don't fully reopen
13 June 2020
Spokesperson on Education, Enterprise and Trade
- Every child has a right to education, impact of blended learning on children must be analysed.
Labour Education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has highlighted the legal requirement on the Minister for Education to consult with all education stakeholders if he plans to refuse enrolled pupils access to schools for a portion of the week when they return in the autumn.
He also called for an analysis to be carried out now of the impact blended learning would have on children.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:
"While the Minister says he wants schools to fully reopen in September, as we all do, he has also outlined the impact of social distancing rules would have on the system, and how children would have to engage in blended learning between their school and at home. The Department has conceded that a 50:50 split between school and home learning would have "very serious impacts to the delivery of meaningful education", but there hasn't been any analysis of what that impact would be.
"Any blended learning scenario will have serious repercussions for thousands of children. All students have a right to education and that must be vindicated in any scenario. The digital divide has already had a significant impact on pupils and additional resources will be required for DEIS schools in particular.
"I am worried that the Minister does not appreciate how serious this situation is. I am particularly concerned that many at-risk children may not return to school, and will fall through the cracks of a system that is having to radically change in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There should be an analysis now and predictions of what the outcome of such a model would be on children.
"Importantly, if the Minister envisages enrolled pupils being refused access to their school during a school day then he needs to make regulations under Section 25 of the 1998 Education Act. That section outlines how those rules must outline the minimum number of days in a school year during which a school shall be open to receive students and provide them with instruction, the minimum number of hours of instruction in a school day or in a school week; and any matters related to the length of the school year, the school week or the school day and the organisation and structure of such year, week or day.
"It obliges the Minister to consult with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers.
"This means if there will be radical changes to the structure of the school year the Minister must engage with stakeholders. As of now, we've seen studies of the impact of social distancing rules, but we also need to see an analysis of the impact such changes would have on pupils and their learning outcomes, and more extensive consultation with education partners."