'Critical' that schools given extra staff to manage reopening, committee to hear

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By Aoife Moore

It is "critical" that schools are given additional staff in order to manage reopening, the Dáil Covid Committee will hear tomorrow.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) guidance on school reopening and the Draft Response plan for Primary schools was published last week, and stakeholders say applying the guidance will prove extremely challenging.

Talks between the Department of Education and relevant stakeholders are set to continue this week on the plan to reopen schools in late August.

Páiric Clerkin, CEO of The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) has written in his opening statement to the committee, that "additional leadership and management time" must be provided to teaching principals to meet the needs of their schools.

"Simply put, they cannot be expected to teach as well as lead their schools through the reopening phase," he said.

"To enable schools to manage during the reopening phase, substitute cover is needed for every absence.

"Schools also need to have flexibility in how they allocate staff to comply with social distancing requirements, including arrangements for shared Special Education and teachers who work in multiple classrooms and/or in multiple schools, while ensuring that the most vulnerable children receive the required support."

Mr Clerkin added that additional funding must be provided to schools up front to enable them to implement the Covid19 guidelines in full.

The committee will also hear that "a one size fits all solution to school reopening will not work," according to Alan Mongey President of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD).

NAPD says the government must ensure adequate levels of cleaning and caretaking staff can be employed.

"The levels of staffing in this area were depleted during our last recession," he said.

How schools will return remains up in the air, as engagement continues between education groups and the government as concern over social distancing limiting school population continues.

A Department of Education study found that if schools employed a one metre distance between students at post-primary would mean that some year groups would only be able to return for 50% of school time.

Guidelines from the HPSC state that at least one metre distance should be maintained by students in the classroom from third class upwards.

New Education Minister Norma Foley has said she wanted schools to reopen "as fully as possible" in September.