Hundreds of schools seek government help to respond to Ukrainian refugee crisis as class sizes increase – The Irish Times


Hundreds of schools under pressure due to the education of children fleeing the war in Ukraine have asked for government help to respond to the crisis.

In communications between the schools and the Department for Education, published in The Irish Times, the scale of the impact felt is highlighted, with one school highlighting the fact that the number of children enrolled has almost doubled to reach 53, while another said parents and teachers were worried about increasing class sizes.

Others asked for funds to buy furniture, books, iPads and school tours, and some asked for permission to hire Ukrainian teachers. Schools that had space to enroll Ukrainian children were also among those who contacted the department.

A helpline and email address to help schools was set up in mid-March and there have been 572 contacts with these services since then. Twenty-seven recordings from the week of April 22-29 have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

They offer insight into the problems facing schools in Ireland two months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked a huge exodus of refugees to other European countries.

A two-teacher school told the department it had enrolled 25 Ukrainian children, bringing their total number to 53. “This has a huge impact on the school’s financial resources. We are under great pressure and are looking for help,” they wrote.

Another school in the northwest said it enrolled eight Ukrainian students, representing a 21% increase in its student numbers.

“We need school supplies, books, uniforms, student tables and chairs for them,” read a communication from the school to the department. “Where can I apply for this funding as it is extremely urgent to get these things in place as soon as possible?”

The school said: “Your help in this matter is extremely urgent – we need help on the ground.”

A third school has requested permission to hire an additional teacher for the 2022/2023 school year to “support enrolled Ukrainian students and even our own current students.”

They had 19 Ukrainian children registered and were expecting more in the following weeks due to a nearby shelter.

“Our current parents and teachers are expressing concern as the number increases in classrooms.”

The school said the 20 hours of English as an Additional Language (EAL) provided to them “is a help” but “the best solution would be a fourth regular teacher so that the class can be divided equally, giving each child (Irish and Ukrainian) a better chance of receiving the attention they need and also the education to which they are entitled”.

In a follow-up email on the request to hire another teacher, the school said: “The normal application process for finding a teacher should not apply in exceptional cases involving children fleeing the war.”

Last month, the ministry wrote to schools, saying there is “generally good capacity across the country, although there may be capacity pressures to manage in some areas”.

He said: “Contingency arrangements will be put in place to manage these capacity pressures.”

Three of the records released by the department were emails from schools offering places to Ukrainian refugees, including a rural school that said it could take 10 to 15 hours but transportation would be required.

The department has set up regional education and language teams (Realts) as part of the response to the refugee crisis.

The Realts are tasked with aligning current school capacity with the placement of Ukrainian families “as much as possible”.

They also help schools and families access resources and supports for additional capacity, well-being, language and education needs.

A number of documents released by the ministry were requests for funding and resources.

A school that had 14 Ukrainian students asked: “Is there any funding I can receive to buy school supplies, books, iPads, etc…?

Another asked for additional capitation funding for “the large increase in our enrollment.” There were then 23 Ukrainian children attending the school.

The school got two extra teachers for the rest of the year, but the email explains how furniture needed to be bought, children needed books and copies, and water and electricity costs had increased.

The email read: ‘School visits are coming and bus prices are considerably higher than in previous years. Obviously we want to include all children, but how do we cover the costs?

“I think we should get a capitation (on an exceptional basis) for these extra pupils.”

A principal from another school which had enrolled 17 Ukrainian children explained how €1,080 had been spent on chairs and tables and added: “I can provide invoices if needed”.

A number of schools inquired about ALA hours, including one that asked if a special needs assistant could be used for English support.

The department said that as of May 26, 918 schools had applied for and received approval for additional teachers or teaching hours to support them in their work with Ukrainian children.

He said €50 million in digital technology grants that all schools can apply for were announced by Education Minister Norma Foley in April.

Schools were encouraged to use this funding to lend devices to Ukrainian children as well as provide appropriate software and apps to support their learning.

The files released to The Irish Times include three schools asking for the possibility of hiring Ukrainian teachers.

One, with 20 Ukrainian children, said: “A fully qualified Ukrainian teacher is making herself available to us with immediate effect.”

They wanted to know if she could be employed 20 hours a week “even if she does not yet have an educational advice number”.

The school explained how it was told that the numbers of the teaching council were not yet issued to Ukrainian teachers.

The email added: ‘However, some children are very distressed and upset here and we would clearly benefit from having this teacher on board.’

Asked about the issue, the department said the Teaching Council had developed a bespoke registration process to support the registration of qualified Ukrainian teachers and that 48 of them had already applied.

Some schools have sought advice from the department on individual cases involving Ukrainian children.

A school was referred to supports offered by the National Educational Psychological Service for a student suspected of suffering from anxiety or depression. Another school asked about offering special education for an autistic child.

The department said it was working to ensure the National Council for Special Education will be available to support schools that have Ukrainian children with additional or special educational needs.

In one case, a school raised the case of a teenage girl who was in her final year of school and was still working online with her school in Ukraine.

The email asked: ‘What pathways allow him to access higher education here from September? How to direct it?

“We’ve looked at enrollment opportunities here and she’s adamant that she wants to move up to the third tier in September.”

The Ministry of Higher Education has indicated that a support service has now been set up for Ukrainian students wishing to access postgraduate studies.

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