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Schools return Start of phased school re-opening planned for March 1

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Education Minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Education Minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Education Minister Norma Foley (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Education Minister Norma Foley is planning for the phased return of all students to school in March.

The target date for the wider reopening to begin is Monday March 1, although that is subject to agreement with the education partners.

Ms Foley told her Cabinet colleagues today that it is her “strong preference” that all students get back to school in March.

A meeting with public health experts today will help to guide the pace of the return.

Meanwhile, in another key development, a meeting of the Government’s Education Committee has been arranged for tomorrow to hear proposals for Leaving Cert 2021.

In terms of school re-opening at second-level, the 63,000 Leaving Cert students are deemed the priority, and it now appears certain that they will be back on March 1.

One post-primary teacher’ union, the TUI, has already said that it would have been prepared to co-operate with their return from next week.

At primary level, one education source said they would like to get all pupils back together, but it will depend on public health advice.

If it comes to prioritising, there is a lot of sympathy for 6th class pupils who are in their final year of primary and need maximum support to prepare for the transition to post-primary.

There is also particular concern for pupils in infant classes who find it hardest to engage with remote learning.

There are about 560,000 pupils in mainstream primary schools, of whom 6,822 are due to return next week in the initial phase of the post-Christmas re-opening.

As well as that, 8,351 pupils in special schools have returned on a part time basis since last Thursday.

There are a further 370,000 pupils in post-primary schools, including 2,800 in special classes who are due to return next Monday.

It means protocols are in place for the return of fewer than 20,000 of a total of more than 900,000 pupils across primary and post-primary.

But in talks on wider re-opening, further assurances and measures are likely to be sought by the education partners.

When the public health advisory body, Nphet, advised against full scale reopening of schools in January, the aim was to ensure that one million pupils and teachers were not on the move and congregating together.

The public health landscape has improved considerably since then, but preventing infection in the face of the highly transmissible UK variant of Covid remains a major challenge.

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