Plan agreed for return to in-school learning for children with special educational needs at primary level

The Department of Education with relevant education stakeholders has agreed to initiate a phased return to in-person learning for children in special schools and children in special classes in mainstream schools.

    • Children in special schools to return on 50 per cent capacity shared basis from 11 February.
    • Children in special classes in mainstream primary schools to return from 22 February
    • Supplementary in-person care and educational support programme to commence from 11 February for four weeks


This announcement follows intensive engagement by the Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD with the trade unions representing teachers and special educational needs assistants, and other relevant stakeholders including parents and school management bodies, to discuss the challenges posed and the supports required to ensure a safe return for this cohort of vulnerable pupils.

On Thursday 11 February, special schools will re-open to pupils. In accordance with this agreement, pupils will attend on a 50 per cent basis to allow for attendance of reduced numbers within the school setting. This will be reviewed in line with public health advice.

On Monday 22 February, special classes in mainstream schools will re-open to pupils.

Talks will continue this week and in the coming period with stakeholders on further phases of return so that a wider reopening can be delivered for children as soon as possible.

During the period of school closure, remote learning provision will continue to be made available to all pupils in line with each school’s remote learning plan.

Recognising that remote learning is particularly challenging for children with additional needs, the Department of Education has put in place a supplementary programme to support the education and/or care needs of pupils with complex needs.

An allocation of five hours per week of home-based teaching or care supports will be made available to eligible pupils. This allocation is intended to supplement, and not replace, the remote teaching provided by the pupil’s school and can be provided by a teacher or SNA in a student’s home, at evenings and weekends. Participation in the programme is voluntary for families, teachers and SNAs and must be delivered in accordance with Public Health Advice.

The four–week programme (20 hours) can commence from11 February and can be used by families at any time up until the end of April.

Special schools and special classes will be supported in their return by the enhanced school teams put in place by the HSE and the Department of Education. Updated guidance and information on the supports for schools will be made available in advance of the return.

Further information on the in-person supplementary scheme to support the education and care needs of pupils with complex needs is being finalised and will be issued to schools over the coming days. Parents will be advised on the application process, which will be similar to a summer provision scheme, with parents engaging the teacher or SNA directly and the Department arranging payment.

It is intended that this programme would be supported by teachers and SNAs who may opt-in to participate, on a paid basis, to help ensure a better learning experience for these pupils and to build on the learning taking place as part of the remote provision.

Notes on Supplementary Programme:
The In-person Supplementary Programme to Support the Education and/or Care Needs of Pupils with Complex Needs scheme is a temporary measure during this period of school closure, in February 2021. The four–week programme (20 hours) can commence from 11 February and can be used by families at any time up until the end of April.

These hours supplement existing school provision provided remotely, therefore they cannot be delivered during the school day. They can, however, be delivered outside of the normal school day and/or at weekends if necessary.

As this will be a supplementary programme, it is voluntary for teachers and SNAs to participate.

Similar to the Department’s home-based summer programme, parents will engage tutors/SNAs directly in a private arrangement.

Tutors/SNAs would be paid for this additional work through the Department’s payroll upon receipt of the completed claim form from parents.

Eligibility for the programme will comprise:

• All pupils enrolled in special schools and special classes in primary schools
• Pupils in mainstream schools who are accessing the highest levels of support in school at the School Support Plus/Support for a Few stages of the Continuum of Support (including pupils with Autism, Down syndrome, sensory impairments, and other disabilities.) This will include the pupils who were identified for the summer programme of 2020.
• Schools have the flexibility to identify pupils that require the highest level of support at any given time. This will ensure that pupils presenting with exceptional needs due to the current school closures can participate in the scheme.