The Secretary General of the Department of Education has told the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response that reopening schools as fully, normally and as safely as possible is the Department of Education's number one priority. 

Seán Ó Foghlú said the department hoped to have guidance issued to schools by the end of the month.

He said it was a challenging and complex process and that intense engagement with those involved in running schools was ongoing.

Mr Ó Foghlú said the aim was to both open schools and to ensure that they remained open. 

Among logistical challenges in terms of physical distancing arrangements were school transport and enhancing cleaning and hygiene routines, he added. 

He explained "curricular challenges" were being worked on in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and that there were also assessment matters to consider in terms of the students undertaking State examinations in 2021.

Mr Ó Foghlú said students, their families and staff would have a role to play in keeping the virus out of schools in the first place. 

He said the department knew that there were going to be costs associated with reopening, "not just in terms of hand sanitisation or cleaning regimes but in terms of teacher and SNA substitution and support for school leaders". 

Mr Ó Foghlú said the department was currently defining what was needed and preparing cost estimates for these elements.

Mr Ó Foghlú said parents who intended bringing their children on holidays abroad this summer should ensure that they return at least two weeks before schools reopen.

He said this will give their children enough time to comply with current travel restrictions, which require a 14-day self-isolation period after travelling abroad.

Mr Ó Foghlú said this was the current advice and that it may be revised in coming weeks.

He was commenting on a warning made earlier this week by the president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals that parents who took their children abroad would "challenge significantly" the school's ability to accommodate their children when they return.

He also said there needed to be big changes in people's personal perceptions of going to work.

Mr Ó Foghlú said many people felt they were not justified in missing work if they had a cold and felt that they were "mitching off".

He said that because many people were currently working from home they may not have fully realised how this attitude had to change.

Anne Tansey, Director of the National Educational Psychological Service, said there would be a need to normalise the feelings of children and have a "settling in" process for children returning.

She said NEPS was working on a range of supports to help children who may need it.

The department is currently in talks with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding financial support.