Barring some extraordinary reversal of the mood music in recent days, the Government will formally decide later today to close primary and secondary schools across Ireland until at least the end of January.
The earliest possible date for school re-opening, then, is Monday February 1st. This would mean that three and a half weeks (including the three days lost this week) would be lost from the school calendar, at minimum.
There will, obviously, be political pressure to make these days up. How could this be accomplished?
Well, assuming that schools can re-open, as planned, on February 1st (which remains quite a big assumption), then the easiest way to do it would be to abolish the easter holidays altogether. That gets you two weeks of classroom time back, and you could probably leave it at that, given that the eight days that would have been lost, net, from the exchange will have been replaced with eighteen days of remote learning, and zoom classes, and all that stuff.
The problem with the easter plan, though, is that it creates a very long second term of the year with no break for students and teachers. It also, obviously, means keeping schools open on various holy days, which might be problematic for religious schools.
The other option, then, is to extend the school year for several weeks into the summer – the end of June for secondary schools, and the end of July, for Primary Schools.
But the problem with this approach is twofold. First, it hugely reduces the timeframe in which to hold, and correct, the leaving and junior certificate results, meaning that they would have to be held, sorted, and corrected in just a three or four week timeframe before the new school year starts again at the end of August.
The second problem is that it likely runs the school year into peak summer holiday season for Irish families.
The third option is to simply not make up the time at all, stick to the original school year, and hope for the best in terms of remote learning. But this approach has the risk of disproportionately advantaging or disadvantaging students, particularly in exam years, based on how committed their schools, and teachers, are, to remote learning. While many schools are absolutely excellent, some are… less so.
There’s also the rarely mentioned fact that with remote learning, some students simply don’t engage, even with the best will in the world from their teacher or their school.
Of these approaches, it seems most likely, and plausible, that the Government will seek to either abolish, or dramatically scale back, the Easter Holidays. Shortening that break by one week, and maybe tacking one extra week onto the end of term, before summer, gets you two weeks back.
It would be highly advisable for the Government to lay out their plans in relation to this – assuming that they have plans – as early as possible. In fact, they should really be doing that today, at the same time as they announce the extended closures. That would give people certainty, and comfort, in terms of knowing that their children’s education was being protected.
There is one huge problem with this, though, which is that it involves asking Teachers to effectively do two extra weeks of work. Having been painted as slouches and villains by much of the media during the first school closure, and having had their remote teaching work widely denigrated, the Teachers unions, as well as rank and file staff, may not be willing to countenance the prospect of three and a half weeks of remote learning being augmented with two additional weeks of work.