Progressive College Network criticizes Department of Further and Higher Education on handling of Covid-19 regulations within the English language education sector

  • PCN says Department has one set of rules for university students and another for English language students
  • Department of Justice tells schools that if they can’t provide in-person tuition, they will not be allowed recruit non-EEA students

Progressive College Network, the representative body for a number of English language schools across Ireland, is accusing the Government of “flip flopping” in relation to how Covid-19 has been dealt with in the English language education sector.

After the Department of Justice had originally directed all English language schools to resume in-person classes from 12 October, new advice was issued to the sector on Friday 9 October by the Department of Further and Higher Education, saying that schools should only return to classrooms where it is safe to do so. The Department of Justice has further stated (10 October) that schools that are unable to provide in-person tuition “within a reasonable timeframe” will no longer be able to recruit non-EEA students.

Progressive College Network says that receiving such advice just 72 hours before schools’ planned re-openings has caused widespread confusion and dismay among students and teachers, and has accused the Department of Further and Higher Education of having one set of rules for university students and another for English language students.

Throughout this process, the health and safety of English language students and teachers has been Progressive College Network’s chief priority. In July, Progressive College Network, together with other English language representative groups, presented the Department of Further and Higher Education with a consultation document setting out measures the sector had already taken to provide for health and safety in its classrooms, and inviting further discussion with the Department and the Department of Health to develop it more fully.

However there was no further engagement in relation to this until the letter from the Department of Further and Higher Education on 9 October, in which it now says this document must be updated “as a matter of urgency.”

English language schools had been preparing to reopen following a letter from the Department of Justice on 25 September, directing them to resume in-person classes by 12 October, so as to fulfill visa requirements. As the number of Covid-19 cases continued to rise and Ireland entered Level 3 restrictions, Progressive College Network failed to see how this directive was consistent with public health advice – and indeed the directive by the Department of Further and Higher Education that universities could continue to deliver online or blended learning.

Progressive College Network has also consistently supported the wishes of its teachers and students in promoting blended learning, where online teaching is supplemented by face-to-face lessons wherever possible, as the safer and more appropriate method of learning. A recent survey of Progressive College Network students found that almost four in five students (78%) would prefer to remain learning online, rather than return to classrooms.

David Russell, Chairman of Progressive College Network, said: “We’re immensely disappointed with how the English language sector has been treated by the Department of Further and Higher Education and the Department of Justice, and this flip flopping has created widespread confusion among teachers, students and staff.

“Two weeks ago, schools were told to prepare to reopen for Monday – despite the significant rise in case numbers around the country – before being told on Friday that they should only do so if the safety of students and teachers can be guaranteed.

“This is doubly frustrating as we have continued to engage with the Department to demonstrate how blended learning is the best option of the sector at this time – one that students are overwhelmingly happy with and that the Department is happy for universities to adopt.

“At the same time, we’ve been seeking greater clarity on the measures needed to safely reopen classrooms when the time is right to do so. We’ll continue to engage with the Department on this and will be working with NPHET to prepare a comprehensive health and safety report on the sector.”

The Progressive College Network was formed in 2015, to meet the demand for an alternate representative body for the private college community in Ireland. Currently it represents over 300 staff members and is responsible for teaching in excess of 3,500 international students annually.

All Progressive College Network institutions are ILEP (Interim List of Eligible Programmes) listed, are fully compliant with any and all regulations and operate to the very highest of standards. Progressive College Network has a bespoke Protection of Enrolled Learners insurance policy that protects students and staff within each of its institutions.