The ‘Engage’ programme will provide an extra level of support to schools to manage pupil’s learning. It has been designed to limit any long-term adverse impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on educational standards by supporting pupils’ learning and engagement on their return to school through provision of high quality one to one, small group or team teaching support in every school in Northern Ireland.  

The aim of the programme is “to limit any long-term adverse impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on educational standards by supporting pupils’ learning and engagement on their return to school through provision of high quality one to one, small group or team teaching support in every school in Northern Ireland”.

All primary and post primary schools in Northern Ireland will receive funding (to varying levels) through the Engage programme to provide additional teaching resources through qualified teachers.  

It is for schools to decide how to best utilise Engage programme funding within the aim and objectives of the programme in order to maximise positive outcomes for those children and young people with the greatest need, and to tailor associated provision accordingly.

Schools with free school meal entitlement of 28% or higher

Around 400 schools with approximately average levels of Free School Meal entitlement (a minimum of 28% of pupils) or higher will, dependent on the number of pupils, be provided with funding to support either 0.2, 0.5, one or two additional teachers during the 2020/21 academic year providing over 300 additional teachers across the system.  

Schools with free school meal entitlement below 28%

All other primary and post-primary schools, with Free School Meal Entitlement below 28%, will also receive funding to provide (depending on their size) 30, 45 or 60 substitute days during the 2020/21 school year in order to deliver a programme to support pupils to engage with learning. 

The Guidance – key points

  • The programme is both targeted at those schools with concentrations of disadvantage but also provides universal support across all primary and post-primary schools.  
  • Engage programme qualified teachers will provide child centred one to one, small group or team teaching support within school to those pupils identified by schools as most benefiting from additional support following the Covid-19 period of lockdown.
  • The programme is aimed at pupils of all abilities identified by school as those who would benefit most from additional support to engage with learning following the Covid-19 lockdown period. This will include consideration of any EOTAS pupils for which schools retain responsibility.  
  • It is anticipated at this stage that the Engage programme will run throughout the full duration of the upcoming academic year, and schools should plan on that basis, it should be noted that the additional funding needed to facilitate this is subject to Executive agreement.
  • The funding allocated is therefore not to be used to facilitate any Covid-19 related social distancing requirements or to cover sick or other leave absence of normal classroom teachers. Nor is it permitted to use the funding to purchase other resources such as computer equipment and software, transport for field trips, or visiting speakers etc –it is for qualified teachers only.
  • If schools will need to consider contingency planning for how Engage may be delivered on a remote basis or through a blended learning approach according to the particular context at any given time. At the outset of the pandemic, a commitment was given by the Department that all staff would continue to receive normal pay and all NISTR bookings honoured.  We anticipate that the same would apply in the event of a second wave and therefore schools will be committed to continuing to pay any Engage teachers (recruited or NISTR) even if it is not possible for them to deliver the programme in a school setting.
  • Schools should retain autonomy with decisions relating to the Engage programme, schools will manage the recruitment process for teachers. This will involve either employing/hiring teachers on a “fixed-term” basis or drawing down the resource from the Northern Ireland Substitute Teacher Register (NISTR).
  • Schools should manage NISTR engagements and/or recruitment processes in line with existing policy and guidance, for example ‘EA’s Teaching Appointments Scheme for Controlled Schools’ and TNC Circular 2016/01 on the ‘Appropriate Use of NISTR’. 
  • Before engaging a teacher, the school needs to ensure they are clear on the duration and end date for the post and the reason for the post. This will facilitate the process of bringing the post to an end when funding ceases. 
  • Schools will have flexibility to manage the recruitment process as they see fit and how, in turn, that additional resource will be used within the school. For instance, it will be possible to backfill a post to allow a current teacher to be released to deliver Engage programme support.     
  • Schools may wish to engage teachers directly or, where part-time hours are involved, they may wish to engage a teacher in tandem with another local school. 
  • It will not be possible to recruit Classroom Assistants with Engage resources – the programme is designed to support the provision of qualified teachers only.
  • Schools should also be aware that the funding levels for the Engage programme have been calculated on the basis of costs associated with the M3 spine point on the teacher pay-scales. Whilst this has been used to calculate the amount that a school will receive to fund additional teaching resource, this is indicative only. It is up to schools to decide which teachers to employ, at what rate, their working pattern and for what period of time - i.e. should schools employ a teacher/s who is/are above this pay point, then any shortfall will have to be met by the school from existing budgets. Fair employment procedures require schools to determine objective and justifiable job criteria and to consistently apply those and appoint the best applicant on merit.  To do otherwise may result in an equality challenge.

Further detailed advice has been developed by the Education Authority in the form of Frequently Asked Questions which controlled schools may find helpful.