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Too early to say how schools can reopen in September, says Education Minister

Joe McHugh said he did not want to make an announcement about schools in May when they are not due to open until September.

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Minister for Education Joe McHugh (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Education Joe McHugh (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Education Joe McHugh (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Education Minister has said it is too early to say how schools will reopen fully in September due to the need for social distancing.

Schools and colleges have been shut since March in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Joe McHugh told RTE’s The Week In Politics programme he has set up an advisory group to examine the issue and the group will work towards opening schools.

He said: “NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) advice is that schools will reopen in September, so the question is now how can we do that in a safe way and I think it is too early to say how that will look. But that is the job we have started and we will continue to work our way through it.”

Asked if schools reopening would mean smaller classes or start times being staggered, he said: “We are trying to give as much clarity as possible and the last thing I want to be doing in the month of May is to say exactly what this will look like. That is why I want to have a proper consultation about it.

“I am going to work with the advisory group that I have set up and that work is going to continue.

“We are going to work with all the stakeholders and I have already started the conversation a number of weeks ago.

“With a lot of the stakeholders, whether it is post-primary or primary, we are going to work towards opening the schools.

It was announced on Friday that the Leaving Certificate examinations will not go ahead this summer as a result of the pandemic.

Instead, students will have the option of receiving grades calculated by their teachers based on their school work.

I want to categorically say that any student, just because they go to a certain school, that they will be marked any differently to anyone else is just not the caseJoe McHugh

Students have the option to sit the exam at a later date but it will not be in time for when colleges open in September.

Mr McHugh rejected accusations of unfairness about the new system and said students from all types of schools will be treated fairly.

He said: “I want to categorically say that any student, just because they go to a certain school, that they will be marked any differently to anyone else is just not the case.

“You could have a situation where once a principal sends off the results of any school, whether it is a community school, a Deis school, a private school, where the system will look at some students maybe marked too harshly, some students could be marked leniently, there will be different evaluations.”

PA