A €10 million fund has been set up to provide technology and devices for disadvantaged students at primary and secondary level, a Fine Gael Deputy has said. Deputy Martin Heydon said the funding will be a huge help to both students and teachers as part of our response to Covid-19.

“Schools in Kildare know their students best. So they are being empowered to support those who most need access to technology, with the right equipment.

“Schools are being asked to prioritise exam classes, and then to look at where else access to technology is most needed. I am confident this will make a real difference to thousands of students and provide the technology they need to be able to access online supports.

“At this time it is imperative we go further as a society to support more vulnerable young people. By redirecting funding we are focusing our attention on where it is needed, with a priority on Leaving Certificate students. Combined with an emphasis on wellbeing, this funding will help to give students the tools they need to succeed.”

The measures are part of a number of initiatives taken by the Department to support Kildare children and young people who are at risk of educational disadvantage during the period of school closures.

They include:

  • Guidance being issued to all schools to support the ongoing learning of children with special educational needs and children who are at risk of disadvantage.
  • Collaboration with Cisco/WebEX to support schools with training in video conferencing software – for use by teachers with their classes.
  • Guidance and resources developed by the National Council for Special Education on supporting children with special educational needs.
  • Continuation of the School meals programme, funded through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to provide food parcels to children who are at risk of food poverty.
  • Continued funding of Home Tuition or, where this is not possible, flexibility to bank hours for use at a later time in the year.
  • Resources to support good mental health and wellbeing amongst students produced by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS).
  • €10 million funding package secured as part of the Digital Strategy for Schools ICT Infrastructure Fund.

The Department of Education and Skills is also working with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and telecoms companies through industry body Ibec to make a number of relevant websites “zero rated”. This would allow students to access these sites with no data costs.

Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, added: “I believe the tech grants now being issued to schools can help harness the hard work, innovation and creativity being shown by our schools and their students to the greatest extent possible.

“The efforts of our school communities are something to be proud of.”

Note to Editors:

  • In January the Minister announced the latest round of funding for ICT under the Digital Strategy for Schools. €40m grant funding will be distributed in the coming weeks to eligible schools as previously notified. Today’s announcement includes a top-up scheme which will see €10m issuing to schools in the coming weeks also.
  • The Department of Education and Skills will issue a circular to schools providing the details governing the funding for the grant and the top-up funding.

Digital Strategy for Schools ICT Infrastructure Fund

  • The strategy provides grants worth €210m for ICT Infrastructure to schools over the five years of the Strategy.
  • In January the Minister announced a €40m funding package which would be distributed across eligible schools. This funding will be distributed in the coming weeks also.
  • The €10 million fund has been secured by redirecting funding which had been planned for distribution to eligible schools following an application process towards the end of 2020. The grant has been revised to target and support disadvantaged students and to support new priorities in students’ learning.
  • Schools are being asked to re-prioritise this funding where needed to support the continuity of teaching and learning for students in the context of the current public health crisis.

Guidance on Continuity of Schooling to support learners with special educational needs and learners from disadvantaged backgrounds

  • The Department is issuing two guidance notes for all schools – one aimed at supporting schools’ efforts to ensure continued engagement with learning by students with special educational needs, the other at supporting schools’ efforts to ensure continued engagement with learning by learners experiencing educational disadvantage.
  • The documents are informed by good practice by schools and teachers, and take account of views of a range of stakeholders including through surveys carried out by primary and post-primary management bodies.

Student wellbeing

  • The National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) has produced advice on talking to children and young people about Covid-19, advice to young people while schools are closed; help in creating a Plan for the Day; Relaxation Techniques (including podcast); and Guide for Parents Supporting Children with Routines.
  • Work is underway on a joint webinar with NEPS and the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT) service based on the resources developed by NEPS for parents and young people. Work is also underway on animated versions of guidance to young people and their parents.

National Council for Special Education

  • The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has published resources for parents and for teachers at ncse.ie. General support along with various disability specific support eg ASD has been published. Therapists have developed a number of resources for parents in the areas of behaviour, speech language and communication and occupational therapy resources such as movement skills.
  • NCSE Advisors continue to provide telephone support and advice to teachers to support remote learning of SEN students.
  • NCSE’s Visiting Teacher Service (for Visually/Hearing Impaired) is operating by email, telephone and video conferencing.

Home Tuition

  • Funding for the provision of Home Tuition will continue to be provided for the duration of the pandemic emergency where tuition is delivered by distance learning.
  • Where Home Tuition cannot continue via distance learning or where a parent wishes to cease Home Tuition for the duration of the pandemic emergency, they can apply to the Department to use the hours sanctioned for this period to provide tuition later in the year

School meals

  • Arrangements are in place to allow schools to continue delivery of school meals during the Covid-19 period.