Progressive College Network threatens legal action as Government aims to force English language schools to provide full-time, in-person classes next week

  • ‘Doublespeak’ criticized as ELE sector directed to return to classrooms while universities encouraged to adopt blended approach to learning
  • Progressive College Network considering legal action as it accuses Government of putting teachers and students in danger as case numbers rise

Progressive College Network, the representative body for a number of English language schools across Ireland, is considering taking legal action against the Government decision to force English language schools to return to full-time, in-person teaching by 12 October.

With an increasing rise in cases and the prospect of an increase to level four or five restrictions across the country, Progressive College Network has said it fails to see how a Department of Further and Higher Education directive to third-level universities to deliver online or blended content is consistent with the new demand that ELE providers return to the classroom in the next week.

On 25 September the Department of Justice wrote to ELE schools confirming that English language students must return to in-person classes 15 hours per week by 12 October, in order to fulfill visa requirements. However Progressive College Network has urged the Departments of Further and Higher Education and Justice and Equality to reconsider, as the health and safety of students and teachers remains its top priority.

It has instead highlighted the benefits of 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.

Progressive College Network has also highlighted that a reduction in class sizes may be necessary to comply with social distancing in some schools, while others would likely have hundreds of students within a single building. Any reductions in student number would inevitably lead to refunds for students unable to complete their studies. No additional funding has been made available to ELE schools to facilitate reopening and ensure the safety of teachers and students.

David Russell, Chairman of Progressive College Network, said: “It seems an obvious contradiction that English language schools are being forced to reopen while universities are asked to remain online – and it’s putting our teachers and students at great risk. The Department of Justice is making a grave error of judgement in ordering ELE schools to reopen by 12 October, even as case numbers are continuing to rise and after NPHET has recommended level five restrictions for the whole country.

“It’s frankly incredible that these demands are being placed on the ELE sector at such short notice, and with little regard for the safety of students, teachers and the wider public. We’ve continued to engage with the Department to demonstrate how blended learning is the best option for the sector – and one that students are overwhelmingly happy with.

“This doublespeak on the issue – urging ELE schools to return to classes but allowing universities to adopt blended approaches – goes completely against public health advice to limit social contacts wherever possible.”

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.