Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education, Thomas Byrne TD, has called on the government to place the voice of children front and centre in plans to reopen schools in September by having the Ombudsman for Children fully involved in Departmental consultations.

A consultation process is currently underway within the Department with education stakeholders including representatives of teachers and school management bodies. 

Deputy Byrne commented, “It is vital that the needs of children are put front and centre in any discussion about the reopening of schools in September. Issues around the mental wellness of students, the ability of students to participate to the highest level possible in education and to interact with their classmates are all of vital importance. These interests need to be represented from the very start in consultations.

“One of the key lessons from the debate around the Leaving Cert has been that young people’s interests were not considered to the level needed from the very start. Instead, the focus was initially on protecting the integrity of the exams. While this was obviously important, it could never have trumped issues around the mental health of young people.

“As we enter this new phase of discussion, we need a strong voice at the table to represent the interests of the child. As a result of not having this previously, we had a situation where the Ombudsman for Children had to make two interventions on behalf of exam students.

“The Ombudsman for Children could also be the voice for children with special needs who have particular difficulties with the current situation. 

“I have every belief that teachers, schools, the Department and other stakeholders all have the best interests of children at heart in this consultation. However, I believe that an independent voice is required. The Ombudsman for Children is well placed to play that role. I have written to both the Ombudsman and the Department to express these views,” concluded Deputy Byrne.