School Children Running Down a Hall

A New Post-Pandemic Social Contract between Health and Education: Keynote Presentation

Dr Paul Downes, Associate Professor of Psychology of Education and Director, Educational Disadvantage Centre, Institute of Education, gave the keynote presentation A New Post-Pandemic Social Contract between Health and Education in Ireland: Key Issues for DEIS Schools and Wider Contexts for the National Webinar of the Children’s Future’s Network (September 21, 2021). The Children’s Future's Network is composed of AsIAm, Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Inclusion Ireland, National Parents Council Primary, Spunout, Pavee Point, UNICEF Ireland, Foroige, St Vincent de Paul, Children’s Books Ireland, Museum of Childhood Ireland and Dyslexia Association.

Dr. Downes’ presentation focused on a range of key issues bridging health and education to meet marginalised students’ holistic educational needs, to address system gaps exacerbated in light of the Covid pandemic. These issues requiring a reshaping of boundaries between health and education in Ireland include the need for:

a) Emotional Counsellors/Therapists in and around Schools for trauma and adverse childhood experiences,

b) Addressing Child Poverty including through Hot Meals for Children in Schools and Families through Area Based Childhood (ABC) Projects

c) A National Arts and Social Inclusion in Education Strategy addressing social isolation from pandemic lockdowns

d) Alternatives to Suspension/Expulsion/Reduced Timetables including through provision of Emotional Counselling/Therapeutic Supports and Multidisciplinary Teams

and e) Sleep Awareness curricular approaches in schools.

Dr. Downes highlighted that successive recent Joint Oireachtas Education Committee reports on Covid response (January 2021) and on mental health and school bullying (August 2021) have given the same key recommendation, namely, that emotional counselling and therapeutic supports be provided in all primary and secondary schools as an ‘urgent priority’. The Covid Response Oireachtas Report also recommends, ‘The provision of hot meals to vulnerable students should be expanded to cover periods of school closures and holidays and a Hot Meals Programme should be rolled out nationally to all schools on a phased basis’.

His presentation documented that the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, was asked by the Chair of the Oireachtas Committee to develop a concrete proposal for such specialist emotional counselling/ therapeutic in schools, while emphasising a key recommendation in the Child Ombudsman’s proposal is a pilot across the whole country to cover both Primary and Post Primary to establish 160 emotional counsellors nationally, in every county, at a cost of just under €10milllion per annum.

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was discussed by Dr. Downes as a key basis for the issues of both sleep awareness and a national arts and social inclusion in education strategy, given that this Article specifically refers to the right of the child to rest and to participate fully in cultural and artistic life with equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity. These were argued to provide a key legal basis for developing these social inclusion issues in the forthcoming new National Children’s Strategy

An extract from Dr. Downes’ keynote presentation was featured as an opinion piece in the Irish Examiner (Sept 24th)

as well as in the Irish Times (Sept 21st)

and Examiner (Sept 22nd)

His invited article with the same title as the keynote presentation has just been published in the IPPN (Irish Primary Principal’s Network) Leadership+ Issue 119 October 2021 epublication p.9