Discussions between the Education Minister and unions representing teachers, along with other partners in education, are set to take place in advance of Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

These discussions are aimed at finding an agreed way to reopen schools in the period ahead.

The matter will also be discussed at the influential Government Covid-19 Committee on Monday.

Earlier, the Taoiseach said that schools would most likely reopen in a phased way, but not all students would be back at school by 17 March.

Some in Government have suggested that this could begin with school-based education for those with special needs, followed by the return of Leaving Certificate students.

Then primary schools would return and the remainder of secondary school students would go back to school soon after this.

However, senior sources have insisted tonight that there are no detailed or finalised plans drawn up yet.

There is also a renewed sense of optimism in political circles about the reopening of schools in early March in the aftermath of tonight’s drop in Covid-19 cases.

It is expected however that a decision on what type of Leaving Certificate will take place this year will be made late next week.

Schools won't reopen fully by St Patrick's Day - Taoiseach

Primary and secondary schools have not reopened since the Christmas holidays due to the surge in Covid-19 cases.

Speaking on RTÉ's Brendan O'Connor programme, Micheál Martin said that due to the large number of students "we are going to have to look at it differently".

He said there would not be "the one big bang approach because of the transmissibility" of the virus.

Mr Martin reiterated that getting children with special needs back to schools was the Government's priority. 

However he said the number of Covid-19 cases would have to be quashed in order for students to return to in-classroom education.

"They have to be somewhere similar to where they were. I don't want to be specific about the actual numbers," he said.

He said that while schools are safe, it is the mobilisation around them that is the issue.

"Because of where we are now in terms of the pandemic the idea of mobilising one million people was the main reason not to open them."


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He said the first priority is special education, which he hinted could happen in February. 

Yesterday the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, said that the unions and her Department are making every effort to work in a collaborative way with unions and school representative groups.

She said that "intensive engagement" is under way and it is still her priority to reopen special education prior to the reopening of schools in general.

This morning the Taoiseach said there was a failure in how the reopening of schools for students with additional needs has been handled, but he said "unions acted in good faith".

Mr Martin said there is a "shared determination" to do something for families with children with special needs. 

"I would like to think in the coming weeks there would be some movement on it."

A decision on Leaving Cert will be made within a short timeframe. "There is a range of options that have to be examined," he said.

Meanwhile the Central Executive Council of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland has heard there is a "high level of concern" among teachers about the reopening of schools and uncertainty around the Leaving Cert.

The union has called for clarification on "contingency measures for assessment and examination components for the Leaving Cert".

ASTI President Ann Piggott said: "We will be consulting with our members and demanding that appropriate measures be put in place to ensure that a safe reopening of schools will happen."

The ASTI has said members are to be surveyed on their views regarding school reopening.