Vast majority of parents want their children back at school in September, Covid committee hears


More than 90% of parents of schoolchildren want their children to return to school fully in September and have raised concerns about plans for blended learning.

It comes as plans to fully reopen schools in September have been thrown into doubt, as new public health guidance calls for physical distancing of at least one metre in most school settings.

The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response was informed of a survey of almost 25,000 parents carried out by the National Parents Council Primary (NPC) last week which found that 91% of parents said it was important (20%) or very important (71%) that their children fully return to school in September.

Just under 85% of parents who have a child with special education needs said it would be somewhat or extremely difficult if their child were to return to school with blended learning in place. 

Some 83% of parents with a child starting secondary school in September said it would be somewhat or extremely difficult for their child to settle into their new school if blended learning was in place. 

On a scale of one to 10, some 13% of parents rated their children’s anxiety levels regarding a return to school at eight or above. 

The majority (64%) of these parents felt their child would need individual support from their teacher. However, 45% felt their child would need professional therapeutic supports to help them cope with their anxiety.

Chief executive of the NPC, Áine Lynch, told the Committee that a majority of parents feel their children are not motivated to learn at home. 

“This raises concerns whether there would be blended learning actually taking place, or in effect, a shortened school week,” she said.

President of the National Parents Council Post Primary (NPCPP) Mai Fanning said that, while children must not be made “afraid of going to school”, there would inevitably be risks in order to ensure school returned safely.

“That will likely require many of us to step outside our comfort zones and face the fact that, for some time to come there may be some calculated and considered risks which need to be taken in our efforts to effectively take care of the nation’s children and students,” she said.

The NPCPP said that schools must have sufficient handwashing facilities, hot water, antibacterial washes and hand sanitiser as well as capacity for students to link with a psychologist or therapist to deal with stress and trauma as a result of Covid-19.

Issues around the lack of broadband or access to devices were also raised as a significant problem for large segments of the student population. 

NPCPP communications director Paul Rolston said the reality was that “a chunk of money” has been thrown at business to ensure it survives the pandemic and that a portion of this money also needed to be made available to ensure that the education of children does not suffer.

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