A new Covid Learning and Supports Scheme (CLASS) that will mitigate the impact to students’ learning and wellbeing of Covid-19 closures and restrictions. 

This fund will bring to €102.6 million the additional supports put in place in 2021 to mitigate learning loss and support wellbeing.

Under the scheme, every school will receive an allocation of additional teaching hours, which they may use in accordance with the needs of their students. This will enable schools to identify students most at risk of learning loss arising from the recent disrupted school experience and put in place specific targeted teaching supports to meet these students’ needs.

Schools will receive their additional teaching allocations based on the number of pupils enrolled, with enhanced allocations being provided for special schools and schools in the Department’s Delivering Equality of Opportunity in School (DEIS) scheme.

The CLASS programme also provides for shared learning opportunities between schools to ensure that good practice in meeting students’ needs and mitigating learning loss is shared and replicated.

The Department will also ensure that research is undertaken both into the impacts of the disruption to learning and the student experience of Covid-19 across a range of areas, and on the impact of the mitigation measures undertaken under this programme.

Minister Foley said:

I am acutely aware of how much disruption Covid-19 caused to in-school teaching and learning during 2020 and 2021, and the impact on our students at primary and post-primary level.We have already allocated €50 million in targeted supports to the students most impacted, providing a supplementary programme at Easter and a greatly enhanced summer programme that targeted students at risk of educational disadvantage and students with special educational needs.

Today the Government approved additional targeted funding of €52.6 million for the coming school year for the CLASS programme. This means every school will get additional teaching hours, to support the students that need it most in a targeted way.We have already invested and continue to invest significantly in digital technology, in additional staffing and supervision, and in the measures to keep schools operating safely. Our school communities worked tirelessly to ensure continuity of teaching and learning and we all acknowledge that our students’ learning and their experiences in schools were impacted hugely.

Through this new funding, CLASS, schools are being provided with flexibility, and can use their expertise to determine how to use these hours in the way that best suits the needs of the children and young people impacted by Covid-19 in their school.Schools will be able to commence using these hours in October, allowing them a period from the start of the school year to settle students in, review and assess learning need and devise appropriate support plans for the use of the hours available to them.

This investment today by Government is truly an investment in our children’s futures.

Minister Madigan said:

We know that Covid-19 restrictions have been extremely challenging for our school students. We also know that school closures have had a greater impact on the education of some students. Irish and international research tells us much about the impact of the pandemic on students with special educational needs and those most at risk of educational disadvantage.

While teachers, SNAs, and school staff continued to teach and work remotely during periods of school closures, it is clear that remote learning was not possible for some students and that some learn better when they are in the classroom. In addition, many school-based wellbeing supports and programmes were disrupted.

It is imperative that young people who have been impacted severely in the period of remote teaching and learning are provided with additional supports to enable them to make progress and mitigate the loss of learning that they experienced. We previously implemented a supplementary programme and Summer Provision to support students. We are now introducing this new dedicated initiative so that all schools can help to support students whose learning has been disrupted.

As Minister of State with responsibility for special education I am very pleased that students with special educational needs and those facing disadvantage will benefit from the targeted supports and teaching hours, with schools given the autonomy to use these hours as best meets their students’ needs.

Students with special educational needs will also benefit directly from the sharing of knowledge and good practice by schools and the research programme, to ensure that needs and impact are measured over the medium term. Teachers and school staff know the best ways to support their students and that sometimes what is needed is extra support with learning and wellbeing.

This new funding announced today of over €52.6 million will build on the supplementary programme at Easter and summer provision programme, that have directly benefited thousands of children and young people with special educational needs.

I am determined to maintain inclusion and opportunity for all at the heart of our education system, and today’s announcement will ensure that remains the case.

The CLASS funding announced today is in addition to additional funding for Covid-19 measures that schools will continue to receive in 2021 to ensure that public health measures can be followed, such as additional staffing and supervision and cleaning and sanitation, as well as minor works funding to facilitate capital works supporting the safe operation of schools.

Schools were closed over two periods in 2020 and 2021 and, although priority was afforded to the re-opening of special education provision at the earliest possible date in 2021, it is recognised there has been significant disruption to in-school learning over two school years. 

In addition to the significant supports to allow schools to open and operate sustainably in compliance with Covid-19 public health and safety guidelines, the Department of Education, from the outset, has focused on providing additional resources and measures to assist schools in supporting all students, but in particular, students with special educational needs (SEN) and those most at risk of educational disadvantage. 

A programme of additional measures to be offered over the school year 2021/2022 to all schools is intended to assist in mitigating the medium to longer term impact of Covid-19 related school closures on students’ learning and educational experience.

Detail of the measures:

1. Support for Targeted Interventions:

·         Additional Covid-19 Targeted Teaching hours will be provided to each recognised school, from which schools can provide additional teaching support for pupils who, in their view, are at significant risk of learning loss and/or at risk of early school leaving resulting from Covid-19,

·         The students for whom the research to date has indicated have struggled most during the period of school closures are those with more complex special educational needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage. It is accepted that these students will require additional support to that provided by their attendance at the ‘Supplementary Programme’, which was introduced in February 2021 or the expanded ‘Summer Programme’ running this year.

·         In addition there are children who would not normally need to access additional teaching support in schools, who, as a result of the impact of Covid-19 has had on them and their families such as illness and bereavement now require a short targeted intervention to help them to get back on track and allow them to fully re-engage with their education. 

·         The purpose of this intervention is to help these children. Schools will know who these children are and will have flexibility to provide additional support to them as required.

  A block of additional teaching hours will be provided to each school based on their enrolment, from which schools can provide additional teaching support for the pupils in their school who have experienced difficulties resulting from Covid-19 or who most need additional teaching support, in order for them to catch up with missed school time.

 These additional Covid-19 targeted hours will be provided as a once off temporary allocation for the 2021/22 school year and will be provided for schools as part-time hours.

 The additional allocations are for the 2021/22 school year.

 2. Shared learning opportunities

The CLASS programme will provide opportunities for shared learning by schools, which will allow them to identify and share information regarding what has worked well in schools to mitigate learning loss and support mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic addressing issues such as student engagement and attainment, and in managing schools, so that this can be communicated across the education system for the benefit of all schools and pupils. The Department will support and facilitate shared learning experiences over the course of the 2021/22 school year.

3 Research

The continuation of research into the impact on student learning and achievement across a range of areas arising from students’ disrupted experiences of learning over two school years will be conducted by the Inspectorate of the Department. This will support the further development of educational policy and resourcing in this area over the medium to longer term.

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