Minister for Education Norma Foley: There are almost 6,000 Ukrainian children in Irish schools, with 4,000 in primary and 1,900 in secondary. Photograph: Gareth Chaney
There have been more than 500 queries to a special helpdesk on access to higher education since it was set up last month as part of the response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told the Oireachtas education committee he expected this number to grow over the summer months.
Mr Harris said he was to bring a memo to Government soon, seeking agreement for supports for Ukrainian people who wanted to take up third level studies in Ireland.
He said Ukrainian students would not pay foreign fees and would be offered supports equal to the grants on offer to Irish students.
Mr Harris also told the committee that some 229 students here were expected to sit online entrance exams for Ukrainian universities next month.
Earlier, Minister for Education Norma Foley said there were almost 6,000 Ukrainian children in Irish schools, with 4,000 in primary and 1,900 in secondary.
She said about one-third of school-age children who had arrived from Ukraine were yet to attend a school here, that families were being allowed to make that “judgment call”, and the department was happy to go with the pace that “best suits the child”.
She said there was space for 25,000 children in primary schools and 20,000 in post-primary and she was “confident” the system could meet the challenge presented by the extra students.
Ms Foley said that more than 1,000 refugees were continuing to engage with the Ukrainian education system online and she thanked Irish schools that had “facilitated a pragmatic approach for these pupils”.
She told Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell that at present three Ukrainian students were expected to sit the Leaving Cert and two were to take the Junior Cert exams.
Ms Foley also said that 48 or 49 Ukrainian people had sought registration with the Teaching Council to allow them to work as teachers in Ireland.
She said the Teaching Council was progressing their applications and said Ukrainian teachers would be “a great addition going forward”.
Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan said the number of children with additional needs who had arrived in Ireland so far was quite small with the Minister putting the number at just seven or eight.
She said that officials from the National Council for Special Education were “critical” members of the regional education and language teams that were helping Ukrainian children access education.
The Dublin Rathdown TD also outlined how the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Clonskeagh had offered four classrooms to the Muslim national school there to facilitate children from Ukraine irrespective of their religion.
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said there was an issue with children beginning to attend a school in the area where they were first accommodated when they arrived in Ireland before they were relocated at short notice elsewhere in the county.
Ms Foley said “with the best will in the world” there was a “significant challenge” around accommodation.
She said it was an “emergency situation” and a “remarkable achievement” that about 30,000 people had been accommodated in Ireland in recent weeks.
She said her department was liaising with the Department of Children which was co-ordinating the accommodation response
Ms Foley said it would be “very helpful” if the accommodation provision could be matched with school capacity.
Separately, she said some of the children would have had traumatic experiences and added that it was “very difficult to know what they have seen and what their little minds are processing”.
She said the National Educational Psychological Service was offering supports.