Ahead of a meeting with the Department of Education today on the re-opening of schools, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said it is essential that individual schools be allowed to choose how they re-open based on their particular circumstances, as no two schools will be the same in terms of staff availability due to the effects of the pandemic.
In some cases, there will inevitably be restrictions on the number of students who will be able to attend school due to teacher shortages. Clearly, any situation where groups of students in attendance cannot be supervised is unacceptable on health and safety grounds.
It is TUI’s strong position that in situations where priority needs to be provided, it should be given to students in special needs classes, students with special and additional needs and students in examination years.
There is grave concern among teachers at how transmissible the Omicron strain of COVID is. Once again, we are demanding the provision of appropriate quantities of FFP2 masks to all schools.
At today’s meeting, the Union will once again demand that HEPA filters be provided to all schools that require them. Funding was made available for such devices before Christmas but the cap on this must immediately be lifted for schools that require additional resourcing. Beyond this, mechanical ventilation systems need to be provided as a long-term solution for individual classrooms or areas where poor ventilation has been identified by CO2 monitors.
We are entering unchartered territory and all matters must be kept under review based on the very latest public health advice.
TUI has repeatedly made the point that that as a result of historic underinvestment by international standards, Irish schools have been forced to tackle the huge challenges of COVID-19 with large class sizes, over-stretched pastoral support systems for students and education facilities often unsuited to modern teaching and learning.
There was already a teacher recruitment and retention crisis before schools ever had to deal with the additional challenges of COVID-19. The genesis of this crisis can be traced back to imposition by Government of the two-tier system of pay discrimination against those employed from 2011 onwards. Teacher supply, recruitment and retention problems will continue at second level until this is resolved.