Schools will take common sense approach to social distancing, says Norma Foley

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Education Minister Norma Foley has said home schooling is over and that a common sense approach to social distancing will take place in schools when they re-open.

The Government announced its €375 million plan on Monday to get children back to school at the end of August.

It included funding to hire 1,000 post-primary teaching staff – including 120 guidance posts, 600 extra teachers, and 360 posts for schools having the most difficulty reopening.

Ms Foley said younger children will be taught in bubbles or “pods” with a metre between them and that a common sense approach will apply to younger children having to social distance.

“Public health advice acknowledges that particularly for younger children, social distancing is not a requirement. Because of their nature, that would be very difficult to sustain, but it can and will be sustained in older classes.”

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“We are looking for a balanced and common sense approach to how we operate in the classroom environment.”

Asked if home schooling is over for parents, Ms Foley said: “Absolutely. The plan that we unveiled yesterday puts significant resources into schools so they can re-open in a safe manner that is sustainable and does not compromise education standards,” she told RTE radio.

“Parents and students and society wants schools to re-open fully open. This is back to school as normal for our school community.”

Ms Foley said panels of substitute teachers will be drawn up so that substitute teachers can work in more than one school if and when the need arises.

“Substitute panels for primary schools have been successfully piloted over the past year so now, substitute panels are going to be rolled out nationwide and teachers would have one-year contracts.”

Asked if this practice could be risky given the potential spread of coronavirus, she said: “They will be shared among a small number of schools within a particular location. It would be on a very limited basis. 

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“If a member of staff is sick and has to take leave, that teacher has to be replaced – you can’t have pupils and children going unsupervised.

“It will be between a small number of schools, two or three.”

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