For many pupils across Ireland, this week marked their first day back at school since March. After months of online classes and working at home, pupils have finally been giving the all-clear to go back to school. However, pupils are going back to a very different kind of educational experience. With new regulations and guidelines to help stop a spike in coronavirus cases, what will education in Ireland look like post lock-down?
The decision to send children back to school has been a very divisive one, with many arguing it is not yet safe. Both governments in the North and South of Ireland have reassured parents that safety measures are in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, many parents still feel uncertainty about their children attending school during the pandemic.
The decision to send children back to school has been met with mixed feelings from parents.
Rita McAuley is a mother of four, with three children in primary education and one child in secondary education. She tells me that she has “mixed feelings” about her children going back to school. She explains that she is “glad they can have a routine and see their friends again but is worried that it will cause an upsurge in cases”. This echoes the view that many parents have.
A few weeks ago there were discussions about part-time schooling, with a week in and a week out systems to try to minimise the size of classes. This was then scrapped and the government suggested that all children go back to school full time. Rita tells me that she understands the importance of getting children back to school especially for those “who really need the security, such as those on free school meals”. However, she believes it “would have been a better option to try the part-time schooling first as parents would not have been so worried.”
The new normal: what will schools in Ireland look like post lock-down?
In the wake of plans to have all children back at school full time, many schools have had to introduce new guidelines. There have been a number of protocols put in place for pupils across both the north and south of Ireland. So, what will education in Ireland look like post lock-down?
Firstly, all schools will enforce social distancing in classrooms and throughout schools. This means teachers and students will have to remain a safe distance apart from each other at all times. Most schools will also see each class as an individual bubble, which means that children in these classes will only be able to mix with each other. Classes will not be allowed to mix for lunches or in the playground and will have to stay in the one room for all activities.
Many schools have also told children they will not be allowed to bring items from home and all books must remain in the class. There will also be strict rules around children sharing. Pencils and pencil cases cannot be shared and no toys or soft furnishings are allowed in classrooms.
Many secondary schools have made face masks compulsory
Many schools have also introduced one-way systems so that children do not mix with each other. Year groups have been given different pick-up and drop off times to stop parents mixing. Parents are also only allowed on the premises to collect younger children in primary school and must wear a mask. Many secondary schools have made it compulsory for teachers and pupils to wear masks at all times.
Rita tells me that her oldest daughter in secondary school thought that the changes were okay although “it was very uncomfortable to wear a mask for the full school day”. Her younger children are restarting school later in the week. Rita tells me that “she isn’t sure they really understand how different it will be until they go.” However, despite this, she tells me they are “excited to be back at school and see their friends”.
The decision to send children back to school full time has always been a controversial one. There is a wide range of different guidelines being tested for the first time. For now, schools will proceed on a trial and error basis until they establish what works for them in these unprecedented times. Children will have to learn to adapt to this new way of learning for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell whether these new procedures will allow schools to operate safely during this pandemic.
For all the latest coronavirus guidelines in the Republic of Ireland click here
For all the latest coronavirus guidelines in the North of Ireland click here.
Click here for our tips on how to talk about coronavirus with children.