School and COVID-19
Keeping schools and early childhood care and education services open during COVID-19 is a Government priority in line with public health advice. You can read more about the Government’s Plan for living with COVID-19.
On 23 February 2021, it was announced that schools will reopen on a phased basis.
On 1 March 2021:
- Special schools open at 100 per cent capacity
- Primary school students at junior and senior infants and first and second class return to school
- Final year Leaving Certificate students return to school (subject to final agreement)
On 15 March 2021:
- Primary school classes for third, fourth, fifth and sixth class resume
- Post-primary school fifth year students also return
On 12 April 2021:
- First to fourth year post-primary students return to school.
From 11 February 2021, special schools reopened to primary school children at 50 per cent capacity to allow for a reduced number of children in a school setting.
Since 11 February 2021, a 4-week supplementary programme to support the education and care of children with complex needs has been made available for primary school children. Eligible children include all pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes, and pupils in mainstream schools who are accessing the highest levels of support in school.
The programme is intended to add to, and not replace, the remote teaching provided by the school. Children can get 5 hours a week of home-based teaching or care supports. A teacher or SNA will provide the programme in a child’s home at evenings and weekends. Families, teachers and SNAs participate voluntarily in the programme which is delivered in line with public health advice. The 4-week programme can be used by families at any time up until the end of April 2021.
On 22 February 2021, special classes in mainstream primary and post-primary schools reopened. From that date, families of eligible children with special needs at post-primary school can access the supplementary programme.
The Department has published advice for parents while schools are closed.
Children attending school
Your child should not attend school if they are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19.
Students at school must keep their physical distance from one another outside of the classroom and work within the classroom in designated groupings or ‘bubbles’.
Schools have introduced:
- Increased hand washing and sanitising
- Enhanced cleaning regimes
- Staggered breaks and lunch times
- New rules for children using school transport
Blended learning which mixes learning at school and online-learning at home forms part of the school programme so that schools can respond quickly if public health circumstances change.
Classrooms, PE halls and other spaces can be arranged by schools to maximise school spaces for safe learning.
Schools can manage and redistribute their teaching support resources in order to best meet the learning needs of students with complex medical needs who may not be able to return to school because public health guidelines indicate they are at “very high risk”.
The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has developed webinars and wellbeing toolkits for primary and post-primary schools to support the school community in the return to school.
Staying safe at school
Guidance and supports for schools is contained in the Department of Education and Skill’s Reopening our schools: The roadmap for the full return to school.
The roadmap contains detailed guidance and supports covering:
- School drop off and collection
- Hand washing and hygiene
- Face coverings
- Maintaining physical distancing
- Classrooms, bubbles and pods
- Play and break times
School drop off and collection
- Many schools will have staggered drop off and pick up times. Students should not gather when they arrive but go straight to their small designated group or classroom
- Parents and staff should maintain a distance of 2 metres. Walking and cycling to school is encouraged.
Hand washing and hygiene at school
Staff and students should maintain hand hygiene throughout the school day.
Liquid soap and water will be provided in school. Hand sanitiser can be used, however, young children should not have independent use of alcohol gel containers.
Students and staff should wash hands:
- On arrival at school
- Before eating or drinking
- After using the toilet
- After playing outdoors
- When their hands are physically dirty
- When they cough or sneeze
- Moving between classes for post-primary students
Read more on control measures to reopening schools safely on gov.ie.
Children under 13 years are not required to wear face coverings.
Teachers and secondary school students must wear face coverings, when a physical distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained.
All Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) must wear face coverings, or in certain situations clear visors in the class room.
Maintaining physical distancing at school
Primary and special schools
Schools will reconfigure spaces to maximise physical distancing. The classroom will be clear of unnecessary furniture, shelves and material on the walls. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:
- 1 metre distance should be maintained between desks or between individual students
- The teacher’s desk should be at least 1 metre (where possible 2 metres) away from a student’s desk
- Teachers should avoid close contact at face to face level with students
- Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff groups and should wear a face covering where they cannot maintain distance
- Where possible desks should consistently be used by the same staff and children.
The roadmap recognises that younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors.
At post-primary schools, schools can take a common sense approach to decreasing the contact between students. The following physical distancing measures should be followed:
- Students and teachers should limit their interaction when moving between class, in hallways and other shared areas
- Student’s desks should be 2 metre distance apart but at least 1 metre distance from individual students or staff
- Teachers should maintain a 2 metre distance in staff rooms and staff
Classrooms, bubbles and pods
Primary school and special schools
Students may be grouped into class ‘bubbles’ and ‘pods’. A ‘bubble’ is a class grouping which stays apart from other classes as much as possible. Your child may be in smaller group or ‘pod’ within the class bubble. Pods and bubbles help limit close contact and sharing of common facilities between students in different pods and bubbles.
While your child is in a class grouping or bubble they will mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until they leave at the end of the school day.
There should be at least 1 metre distance between individual pods within the class bubble and between individuals in the pod, whenever possible.
Students and teachers should be consistently in the same class bubble although this will not be possible at all times.
Each class bubble should have separate breaks and meal times or separate areas at break or meal times.
Post primary schools
In addition to reconfiguring class spaces and maximising physical distancing, schools may:
- Review timetables
- Reconfigure classes
- Consider use of live streaming within the school
- Use available spaces within the local community
Students should be assigned to a main class cohort, where possible. They will remain in the classroom for most subjects, with teachers moving between rooms. Classes will be planned to minimise movement during the day.
If your child has an elective subject they should move quickly to the new class and sit with members of their class cohort, while maintaining physical distance.
All students and staff should avoid sharing educational material or personal items such as pens, pencil cases and notebooks. Contact areas of devices such as keyboards or tablets should be cleaned regularly.
Staff and students should limit meeting in hallways and shared areas. Hand to hand greetings and hugs should be discouraged. Where students need to move within the classroom to perform activities or share a resource it should be organised to minimise students meeting at the same time.
Play and break times
Primary schools and special schools, should have staggered breaks and adjust playtime to:
- Reduce crowding at the entrances and exits
- Keep students in consistent groups when they play together, where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing
- Minimise sharing of equipment
Post-primary schools who operate a canteen should:
- Make sure physical distancing is applied
- Stagger canteen use and extend serving times to align with class groupings (where possible)
- Implement a queue management system
If your child becomes unwell at school
If your child becomes unwell at school:
- You will be contacted immediately
- Your child will be accompanied by a staff member to an isolation area away from other staff and students while maintaining at least 2 metres distance
- If the isolation area is not a separate room your child will be kept 2 metres away from others in the room
- If it is not possible to maintain 2 metre distance, the staff member caring for your child will wear a face covering. Your child should avoid touching people or surfaces and use a tissue when they cough or sneeze
- Your child will be given a face covering to wear if they are in a common area with other people or while exiting the building
- Your child will be assessed to see whether they can immediately go home or be brought home by you. Public transport should not be used.
- If your child is well enough to go home, the school will arrange for them to be taken home by a family member and you will be asked to call your doctor.
- If your child is too unwell to go home, school staff will contact 999 or 112 and tell them that your child is suspected of having COVID-19
Staff and students must follow the protocol for managing a suspected case of COVID-19 in school.
When to keep your child home from school
You should not send your child to school if they have:
- Symptoms of COVID-19
- Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19
- Been living with someone who is unwell and may have COVID-19
- An existing breathing condition that has recently got worse
- Other symptoms such as sore throat, headaches or diarrhoea
- Returned from another country in the last 14 days
Read more about how to restrict your movements and self-isolate.
Curriculum for 2020-2021 school year
The curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year at all school levels will take account of the:
- Learning experiences of students during the school closure
- Likely gaps in learning
- Practical context in which teaching and learning will take place in the new school year
The focus will be on managing the transition period of returning to school from home at the start of the school year. Schools will need to reprioritise certain areas of the curriculum and give greater time and attention to areas such as Social, Personal and Health Education, Physical Education, Language and Mathematics especially during the initial weeks of the first term. Teachers will form a picture of where your child is in their learning they will work towards more typical curriculum plans.
Schools can decide how to sequence and pace learning for students as they return to school.
The Government has announced adjustments to certificate examinations in 2021. The changes are set out in the Department of Education’s Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021 and Returning to School Transition Year 2020/21
Supporting students with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
Students with special education needs will need support for their well-being or planned learning experiences to take account of the effect of school closures on their progress.
Schools will get all records of progress for children who attended July Provision to help them support planning for children’s needs in the new term.
Supporting students ‘at very high risk’ of COVID-19
Schools will need to provide additional support for students who are ‘very high risk’ and cannot attend school for health reasons related to COVID-19.
A designated teacher from within the school’s staffing will give additional support to students at ‘very high risk’ of COVID-19.
The designated teacher will liaise with the class teacher and special education teacher on relevant curricular content and classwork.
The designated teacher will:
- Provide individualised support for the students learning
- Improve the student’s capacity to become a self-directed learner
- Support the development of the students digital competency
- Make sure ongoing contact with classmates and the class teacher
You can find out more about the supports for families during the COVID-19 public health emergency including