Joint Press Statement Response to ‘Living with Covid Plan’ in context of children's right to education

Published date: 
1 Mar 2021

Children's Futures Campaign Group

Issued Monday 1 March 2021

For immediate release

Members of the Children’s Futures campaign welcomes the return of pupils to school today as part of the Government’s ‘Living with Covid Plan’, announced on Tuesday 23 February, which sees the return of junior infants, senior infants, first and second class, and leaving cert students, as well as special schools returning at 100% capacity.

The Group welcomes the Department of Education’s latest announcement of a 5% increase in funding for the School Completion Programme, which will ‘support the attendance and participation of vulnerable learners and those at risk of education disadvantage’. They also look forward to the Government’s wider plans, which will see primary schools fully reopened by 15 March, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme by 8 March, and full early learning and childcare services resuming from 29 March.

However, the #ChildrensFuturesIRL Group, comprising AsIAm, Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, National Parents Council Primary and Pavee Point, are deeply troubled that no in-school provision has been secured for groups of marginalised and vulnerable children in third to sixth class or at second-level in the first phase nor children with additional needs in mainstream classes in later phases.

Though the Government’s attempts to place children’s right to education as ‘the centrepiece’ to their COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 - The Path Ahead plan is welcome, Group members believe much work lies ahead to cater for those children who are most in need and most at risk.

In response to Government plans, #ChildrensFuturesIRL campaign members will now ask the Government to ensure that:

  1. Once schools are open, they are kept open in line with public health advice, and further closures are prevented.
  2. A policy is developed and approved that will ensure that in-school provision continues to be available to all marginalised and vulnerable children, including Travellers and Roma and children with special educational needs, in line with other jurisdictions if public health requires school closures again in the future.
  3. Clear plans are developed in advance on how to overcome delayed re-openings if Covid numbers increase, particularly for marginalised and vulnerable children, including Travellers and Roma and children with special educational needs, in third to sixth class in primary schools and for second-level students who won’t yet have returned in the first phases of the reopening. Guidance and support need to be offered to marginalised groups, for whom home schooling has proved difficult, and who are not currently eligible under the first phase of reopening schools.
  4. All interim solutions, particularly the enhanced, comprehensive ‘programme of summer provision’ is developed within weeks rather than months and offered to ALL children with an identified need with schools encouraged and supported to provide a school-based summer programme.
  5. In its communications with the public, the Government continues to emphasise that school reopening is a priority and requires the ongoing adherence to Covid-19 measures by the public.

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL Group, which launched on 17 February, is redoubling its commitment to work with Government, education partners and others to come together and secure a cross-party, cross-sector public commitment to prioritise reopening – and keeping open – schools, in line with public health advice, and to limit the negative impact of lockdown on a generation of children.

Around one million children have been impacted by school closures, turning their world upside down. Even with the provision of online learning for those in a position to access it, this has led to significant implications for the right to education as guaranteed by the Constitution of Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive have reaffirmed that schools in themselves are low risk environments and that a gradual phased reopening can occur at this time.

__Ends___

Contact:
Carys Mair Thomas, Children’s Rights Alliance
Tel +44 07702096704 (WhatsApp) Email: carys@carysmair.com
Lorna Cronnelly, Barnardos Tel: 0870957757
Áine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary Tel: 0879294949
Lorraine Dempsey, Inclusion Ireland Tel: 0877741917
Adam Harris, AsIAm Tel: 0871366527
Colette Murray, Pavee Point Tel: 0872976823

Notes to Editor:
• Spokespeople from each organisation are available upon request.
• If you would like to be removed from our distribution list, please email carys@carysmair.com

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL five urgent actions are:
1. Reopen special schools and mainstream classes for children with special educational needs immediately in line with public health advice – if the State is to meet constitutional obligations, it must provide full-time education for children with special educational needs.
2. Reopen all schools and keep them open in line with public health advice – schools must reopen on a phased basis as a matter of priority, in line with public health advice, and the State must develop an action plan agreed with education partners to prevent future closures
3. Make up for the last 12 months to address the loss of learning – developing and providing a suite of interventions for all children but in particular for marginalised and vulnerable groups of children to catch up, such as funding and resources to provide summer programmes.
4. Clarity and options for 2021 Leaving Cert students – offer students the choice of a written exam or calculated grade as part of a fair process, to protect students’ wellbeing and mental health.
5. Best interests of children and young people central to future Covid decision-making – the upcoming National Policy Framework for Children and Young People, Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, provides a strategy for recovery in the context of the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on our children and young people, including those who are disadvantaged, those with special educational needs and those who are at risk of harm or neglect. The Government needs to ensure that the best interests of children are at the heart of all decisions about our children’s futures and that their voices are heard, particularly in relation to education.

Please include details of the following helplines for your readers:
Children's Rights Alliance helpline: 01 902 0494
Email: help@childrensrights.ie
Open Mondays 10am to 2pm, Wednesdays 2pm to 7pm and Friday 10am to 12 noon.

The National Parents Council Primary is the representative voice for parents of children in early years and primary school education. Helpline: 01 887 4477
Open Monday to Friday, 10am - 4pm
Email: helpline@npc.ie

Inclusion Ireland – get support and information online at www.inclusionireland.ie
Tel: 01 855 98 91
Email: info@inclusionireland.ie

Barnardos Parent Supportline, open to all parents who need support at this time
Mon – Fri: 10am – 2pm
Tel: 1800 910 123

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter @ChildRightsIRL.