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A pilot initiative for the return of 6th class in primary school during phase two of the reopening of society (from 8 June) was included in a draft discussion paper at the national public health emergency team (NPHET).
The Medical Independent (MI) obtained the paper from the Department of Health following a Freedom of Information request.
The paper, dated 28 May, also set out the possibility during phase three or four of a phased full reopening of school buildings and facilities for formal education and/or other educational programmes and activities for students subject to meeting the public health guidance.
Phase three began on 29 June while phase four has yet to commence, having been rescheduled from 20 July to a preliminary date of 10 August, which was the original start date for a fifth phase.
The draft NPHET paper set out guidance in regard to a reduction of measures in preparation for advising Government in advance of the commencement of phase two.
In blue text, which denoted suggested items for discussion, or where NPHET may have wished to consider specifying more detailed guidance, was a reference to a pilot initiative for the return to school of 6th class in primary school during phase two.
“Such an initiative could provide primary schools with the opportunity to support children in the important transition from primary to secondary education,” outlined the draft document.
“It could also provide school management with the opportunity to pilot social distancing, hygiene and other protocols as part of its preparations for the subsequent re-opening of schools with those children who are most mature and best able to understand the importance of hygiene and social distancing. This would be a matter for Department of Education and Skills to decide.”
Also in blue text, “during phase three or four” it was posited there could be a phased full reopening of school buildings and facilities for formal education, and/or other educational programmes and activities for students (whether run by the school or other groups/volunteers) subject to meeting the public health guidance.
“A number of options could be considered by NPHET or recommended by NPHET to the education sector for that sector to decide.”
For example, from phrase three for all children including those with special educational needs, educational disadvantage and other specialist programmes; from phrase four for all children including those with special educational needs, educational disadvantage and other specialist programmes; or from phase three for children with special educational needs, educational disadvantage and other specialist programmes and from phase four for all other children.
However, the final guidance did not include reference to a sixth class pilot and gave more general advisories on the reopening of schools.
It advised from phase two onwards, the phased full reopening of school buildings and facilities generally “to enable the commencement of planning and delivery of educational programmes and activities, including formal education”.
The document said this would also allow the Department of Education and Skills and Department of Children and Youth Affairs to progress specific initiatives in relation to children with special educational needs, children with educational disadvantage, children with disabilities and other specific programmes for children and young adults, as well as formal education.
In late July, the Government announced a roadmap with a range of measures to support the “full reopening of schools in time for the start of the new school year in late August”.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “On 28 May 2020 the NPHET was considering whether there was a public health impediment to the Department of Education and Skills running various education initiatives from 8 June. This was within the context of schools not fully reopening until the 10 August, as set out in the roadmap for reopening society and business (published 1 May https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/7450cc-advice-provided-by-nphet-to-the-minister-for-health/).
“The NPHET did not make specific recommendations to the Department of Education and Skills on any pilots or initiatives, such decisions are for the Department of Education and Skills, as was noted within the paper of 28 May.
“The NPHET’s advice to Government on 4 June, did however, recommend that from 8 June, based on the status of the disease that there was no public health impediment to the phased full reopening of schools for full return of formal educational and other activities, in compliance with public health guidance.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education commented: “The Government decided on 5 June 2020 that, in accordance with public health advice, school buildings could reopen on a phased basis from phase two of the Government plan for reopening of business and society.
“The NPHET advice to Government stated that this would ‘allow the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to progress specific programmes and initiatives in relation to children with special educational needs, children with educational disadvantage, children with disabilities and other specific programmes for children and young adults, as well as formal education’.
“This advice facilitated the running of programmes, starting in July and running into August, aimed at children with complex needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage during the summer period.
“Guidance around school reopening generally, as well as summer provision, was sought from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) through the Department of Health.
“This helped inform guidance to schools for summer provision and, more recently, school reopening generally. That guidance to schools and the HPSC recommendations have been published.
“This guidance assists schools and others to operate educational provision in a safe and managed way, having regard to necessary precautions.”