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Covid-Proofing the Education System is in Best Interests of Children

The Children’s Futures Campaign, established in February 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and comprising 13 children and young people organisations, is today throwing a spotlight on failures within the education system to tackle educational disadvantage “before and during Covid-19” and calling on Government to instigate wholesale educational reform.

Almost 200 people are due to attend a webinar hosted by the campaign today, as part of #ChildrensFuturesIRL Education Awareness Month in September, where there will be calls on Government to prioritise schools and the education of children and young people in the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, and co-founding campaign member said: “The Government needs to develop a whole-of-Government approach in the form of a clear action plan to address the impact of the pandemic and school closures on children and young people, particularly those already experiencing disadvantage. It’s about Covid-proofing the education system and refocusing it in the best interests of children. This will require a suite of interventions to address learning loss. Government has already started this work, establishing the CLASS scheme, a little over a week ago, which is a positive development. Yet we need so much more if we are to truly tackle the inequalities embedded in the system.”

Campaign members can point to a body of evidence demonstrating the devastating impact of Covid-19 on children and young people, particularly those already experiencing difficulties ahead of March 2020:

  • Barnardos’ Back to School Survey, published in June, found over 10% of children had spent less than an hour a day learning during lockdown.
  • Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), through an online membership survey in February, explored the impact of the digital divide among primary, secondary and third level students during the pandemic, and found half of their Members had received direct requests from families for help with digital devices since the start of the pandemic.
  • Dyslexia Association of Ireland surveyed their parents over the summer months and almost 60% said they believed lockdowns and remote learning had led to their child falling further behind in their literacy levels.
  • The Children’s Rights Alliance can point to several Members who have picked up similar concerns. For example, a Childhood Development Initiative study this month, asking parents of young children, based in the Dublin area, about their experiences during the pandemic, found that a top issue for respondents involved their child’s socio-emotional wellbeing and development. The wrench of not being able to see friends because of school closures had led to real difficulties, with their child’s development deterioriating, and real fears of what it would all mean for their child’s mental health.

Keynote speaker Dr Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University (DCU), said: “This year successive Oireachtas Education Committee Reports in response to Covid and on Mental Health in Schools have given the same key recommendation to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, that specialist emotional counselling and therapeutic supports be provided in all primary and secondary schools as an ‘urgent priority’. Ireland is playing catch up on this glaring gap in provision in schools compared to many countries in Europe and internationally. Specialist emotional counsellors/therapists in schools must be directly and substantially funded in the forthcoming budget.”

Tracey Reilly, newly appointed Education Officer at Pavee Point, said: “Traveller and Roma education is in a state of crisis. Marginalisation and discrimination are embedded and endemic within the education system and have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and I have seen this for myself. We are working with other organisations on this important campaign to begin to bring about necessary change.”

Julie Helen of Inclusion Ireland said: “It is immaterial if we’re in a pandemic or not. The reality for children and young people with intellectual disabilities is that many will be excluded in some shape or form during their school years, because they’re inconvenient for our one-size-fits-all education system. Much of this is characterised by poor planning or lack of appropriate supports, leaving everyone frustrated. We know that children with intellectual disabilities, who have long absences from school can suffer regression in their learning – this is not new information. It’s time Government leads on this, so our children can start making up some lost ground, and that this never happens again in the future.”

Marcella Stakem of SVP said: “Education is the ultimate enabler out of poverty. But if children and young people do not have the tools to learn, like school books, digital equipment, and access to nutritional food, this really hinders their experience of school. Government must act with urgency, but it is also right to take the time to develop a comprehensive approach, an approach that would see educational disadvantage being an issue of the past. We need to ensure that the current and future cohorts of students can participate in school on an equal footing and secure educational outcomes regardless of their parents’ economic status.’’

Catherine McCurdy, Project Leader at Barnardos, said: “We are concerned about the impact school costs have on families across the country and the negative effect they can have on children’s engagement with education. From our survey, we know that the pandemic has made it even harder for parents to meet these costs this year. Additionally, from our services we know that the extended lockdowns have led to some children struggling to get back into school routines and adhere to rules. We believe that schools should be further supported to take a trauma informed approach to challenging behaviour, reducing the risk of exclusion of children, particularly from certain disadvantaged communities.”

In addition to hearing from young people from campaign member, panellists include Dr Paul Downes, Director of the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University (DCU); Julie Helen, Inclusion Ireland; Catherine McCurdy, Barnardos; Tracey Reilly, Pavee Point; and Marcella Stakem, Society of St Vincent de Paul.

The #ChildrensFuturesIRL Campaign was established early in 2021 to work with Government, education partners and others to secure a cross-party, cross-sector public commitment to prioritise reopening – and keeping open – schools in line with public health advice and to limit the negative impact of lockdown on a generation of children and young people. Current members include founding members AsIAm, Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, and National Parents Council Primary, as well as Pavee Point, Children’s Books Ireland, Dyslexia Association of Ireland, Foróige,, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and UNICEF Ireland.

The next event from the #ChildrensFuturesIRL Campaign will focus on Wellbeing in the School Community, and will take place online on Tuesday 28 September 2021. You can register here:


For more information, to access the event or for general interview bids, contact:
Carys Mair Thomas, Children’s Rights Alliance
[email protected] Tel: +353 1 8605574 (24/7 availability, diverted to mobile)

Other contacts, including specific interview bids:
Rachel Boyce, Barnardos Tel: 086 044 5966
Áine Lynch, National Parents Council Primary Tel: 0879294949
Julie Helen, Inclusion Ireland Tel: 086 8373312
Adam Harris, AsIAm Tel: 0871366527
Caoimhe McCabe, Pavee Point Tel: 085 8162351
Rosie Bissett, Dyslexia Association of Ireland Tel: 0868511012

Notes to Editor:

  • Our webinar is taking place Tuesday morning at 10am – you can register here:
  • Spokespeople from each organisation are available upon request, as are panellists. For case studies, please ask Carys.
  • The event will be using the following hashtag: #ChildrensFuturesIRL
  • Read about the #ChildrensFuturesIRL campaign here:
  • Barnardos’ Back to School Survey, published in June 2021, can be found here:…
  • SVP’s work in this area, such as Mitigating the Impact of School Closures on Disadvantaged Students in February 2021, can be found here:…
  • The full survey conducted by the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI) over the summer months will be published in October. For details relating to data quoted in this press release please contact Carys; all further queries should be directed to Rosie Bissett, the CEO of DAI.
  • Learn more about the Childhood Development Initiative here:
  • The #ChildrensFuturesIRL Campaign was established in February 2021 and is supported by the Community Foundation for Ireland –
  • If you would like to be removed from our distribution list, please email carys@childrensrights

Children’s Futures Campaign: Five Key Asks

  1. Ensure that all schools remain open in line with public health advice.
  2. A contingency plan should prioritise vulnerable groups and detail specific measures to continue in-school provision in the event of further school closures.
  3. Develop and provide a suite of interventions to address learning loss experienced by all children and young people over the last 12 months with additional support for marginalised and vulnerable children.
  4. Recognise the additional challenges faced by young people who were already at risk of disengaging with education or early school leaving before the extended school closures and identify supports to ensure that they are supported to complete their second-level education.
  5. Reform the education system to ensure that the best interests of children are central to decision-making and develop a whole of Government approach to address the impact of Covid on children and young people.

Please include details of the following helplines for your readers:
Children’s Rights Alliance helpline: 01 902 0494
Email: [email protected]
Open Mondays 10am to 2pm, Wednesdays 2pm to 7pm and Friday 10am to 12 noon.

The National Parents Council Primary is the representative voice for parents of children in early years and primary school education. Helpline: 01 887 4477
Open Monday to Friday, 10am – 4pm
Email: [email protected]

Barnardos Parent Supportline, open to all parents who need support at this time
Mon – Fri: 10am – 2pm
Tel: 1800 910 123

Inclusion Ireland – get support and information online at
Tel: 01 855 98 91
Email: [email protected]

Dyslexia Association of Ireland
Email: [email protected]
Telephone helpline: 01 877 6001 (open Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, and 2pm to 5pm)

About Barnardos

Barnardos’ mission is to deliver services and work with families, communities, and our partners to transform the lives of vulnerable children who are affected by adverse childhood experiences. Because childhood lasts a lifetime  

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