Class act: Principal pioneers ‘remote learning van’ for pupils of high support school


The head of a high support school has been driving around to his pupils’ homes in a ‘remote learning van’ to support their needs.

Dave Carter,  principal at St Paul’s Youth Encounter Project in Finglas,  Co Dublin,  believes all schools should be able to open for vulnerable children from very disadvantaged backgrounds and that teachers at special schools should be prioritised for early vaccination.

“A lot of marginalised families may not have the hardware, software or know how to manage remote learning and we are bringing devices already set up with wifi and connected to the teacher who will deliver a 30-minutes class,” Mr Carter said.

”Myself and our family therapist wait outside the home until the class is finished and then go to the next pupil.

“These homes have no broadband and students are getting one-hour tuition at most a week.”

St Paul’s caters for students aged 10 to 16 years old and is under the classification of a special school.

These schools are set to re-open later this week with a staggered programme to reduce numbers in the school at any one time, but Mr Carter believes other schools should also be open for vulnerable children.

“For vulnerable children I feel all schools should be given the trust and autonomy to open, provided it is safe to do so for students and staff, according to their resources. For many, school is more than education of a set curriculum but one of learning to cope with life and it can be a safe refuge from difficulties elsewhere.”

He said the school closures last year had been the catalyst for some children having to go into residential care.

While he said it was essential his pupils were in school and welcomed the re-opening, he said social distancing is very difficult to implement in special schools, so with the new more transmissible variant of Covid, these teachers face more risk.

“The pupils at my school often have behavioural difficulties and social distancing and mask wearing is not possible.

“This is similar for schools catering for those with special educational needs so the Government needs to be cognisant teachers in special schools are more at risk and early vaccination would be a solution.

“My own family members have underlying health issues and are worried about me visiting my pupils’ homes now, but I have no choice as we need to check up on these kids. Otherwise they will get no learning or support.”

St Paul’s is among the 124 special schools that are set to re-open this Thursday.

High support schools, such as St Paul’s, cater for a maximum of 200 students in Ireland.

There is one in Limerick, in Cork and two others in Dublin.

Irish Independent

Source: Irish News