Guaranteed timeframes on COVID-19 testing required for teachers if schools are to operate effectively – TUI

17 September 2020
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has called for teachers and other school staff to have guaranteed access to a test on the day that they first experience possible COVID-19 symptoms, with an additional guarantee of a test result within 24 hours. The Union has said that there is strong anecdotal evidence of teachers experiencing delays in accessing testing and also in receiving results, which is leading to severe disruption in many schools around the country as the teachers affected are unable to attend work. The Union is warning that the situation will inevitably worsen in the coming weeks and months unless action is taken now. Speaking today, Michael Gillespie, General Secretary of the TUI said: ‘The Government made clear for several months that the re-opening of schools was its top priority. We in the TUI have consistently stated that, in addition to the initial budget provided to facilitate re-opening, further resources would be needed on an ongoing basis to ensure that schools can be kept open. A key consideration in this regard is minimising teacher absence. Delays in access to COVID-19 testing and in confirmation of test results for teachers are already causing severe disruption in many schools around the country as teachers must remain at home while awaiting the test results.   If this disruption is to be avoided, there is a clear and urgent need for additional resourcing to standardise and enhance the COVID-19 testing regime for those in the school community. Teachers and other school staff must have guaranteed access to a test on the day that they first experience possible COVID-19 symptoms, with a guarantee of a result of the test within a maximum of 24 hours. We are hearing that, in too many cases, teachers and other school staff are waiting days for both. This is not sustainable if schools are to remain open. Given traditional trends in terms of colds and flu over the winter months and the additional burden that will be put on any testing regime, it is certain that the problems we are seeing now will greatly worsen unless a robust testing system is put in place. To make matters worse, school principals are finding it extremely difficult to recruit substitute teachers at short notice to replace those teachers who are awaiting either tests or the result of tests. A survey carried out among principals last month found that 98% had experienced difficulties employing substitute teachers in the previous twelve months, with 81% of these believing that pay discrimination is a significant factor. This trend is continuing in the new school year. When appropriate substitute cover is not available, students experience a diminished education service. In economic terms, we believe that the additional investment required to make the testing system fit for purpose would be money well and wisely spent and would be offset by savings in terms of required substitution cover. Properly and promptly implemented, this would, in effect, be a cost-saving measure and one, to boot, that would give schools a fighting chance of maintaining their service to students.”

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