New survey findings highlight the serious health and safety concerns of teachers   

By piofficer, Thursday, 22nd October 2020 | 0 comments

Findings of a new survey of over 1,500 Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) members in the Post Primary and Further/Adult Education sectors highlight a range of concerns around health issues, resources in schools and increased workload.  (Click here for full findings).   

The Union is insisting on ongoing engagement around the move to Level 5 restrictions and continual assessment of the potential health risk to school staff and students.  

TUI is also calling for a national audit of safeguards in schools, a review of some health risk assessments and also the provision of resources to tackle the digital divide that discriminates against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.   

Key findings include: 

  • 23% of respondents say they have an underlying health issue that is of concern while 31% share a household with somebody who has an underlying health issue. 11% share a household with somebody over 70 years of age 
     
  • 71% do not believe that the enhanced teaching/staffing allocation provided as a result of COVID-19 has been sufficient to meet requirements  
     
  • 95% said their work is somewhat or significantly more difficult compared to twelve months ago 
     
  • From a list, respondents identified ‘More physical space’, ‘Smaller class groups’ and ‘more teachers’ as what they would most like to see to counter the workplace risk of COVID-19 
     
  • 52% do not believe that most students have the required ICT facilities to participate in remote learning should schools be required to close for a period of time 
     
  • 89% believe that the two-tier system of pay that discriminates against those appointed since 1st January 2011 continues to damage morale among teaching staff.  

The survey of 1,551 teachers was carried out between 25th September and 5th October.  

Speaking today, TUI President Martin Marjoram said:  

Health concerns of teachers   

‘The findings highlight the significant concerns of teachers around their own health and that of others in their household. Over one in five respondents said that they have an underlying health issue that is of concern to them in terms of COVID-19, while 31% share a household with somebody who has underlying medical issues that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Meanwhile, 11% of respondents share a household with somebody who is over 70 years of age. 

Of particular concern is the uncertainty around the definition of close contacts in schools. A lack of consistency and clarity in this regard is causing severe stress and anxiety. The situation must be urgently reviewed so that school staff have trust in the system and understand the decision-making process.  

Following risk assessments by the occupational health service, cohorts of teachers with an underlying illness had their condition categorised as either ‘very high risk’ or ‘high risk’. Provision was made for ‘very high risk’ teachers to work remotely, but those who are ‘high risk’ are still in the workplace. Conditions of those in the ‘high risk’ category include serious illnesses such as heart disease or immunity issues. We are seeking a review for these teachers in a scenario where the rest of society is effectively locked down.’  

   

Additional resources required   

‘71% of survey respondents do not believe that the enhanced teaching/staffing allocation provided to their workplaces in response to COVID-19 has been insufficient to meet additional requirements, while just over half believe that their workplace has not been provided with the requisite resources to ensure a satisfactory cleaning regime.   

A full national audit of schools is urgently required to ensure that they have the required resources to ensure full compliance with public health advice. The necessary funding must be provided in this regard.   

Ventilation problems will now become critical as we move towards colder weather. Many schools, particularly those based in older buildings, will require new ventilation solutions and there will also be a need for monitors to signify when air exchange is required. Again, the required resourcing must be provided.  

Tellingly, respondents identified more physical space, smaller class groups and more teachers as the measures they would most like to see from a given list to counter the risk of COVID-19.   

While nobody could have anticipated the huge challenges of the pandemic, understaffing and inadequate buildings are a long-standing legacy of completely inadequate investment in education, with the latest OECD statistics ranking Ireland last of 36 countries in terms of second level investment. This era of underinvestment is placing teachers in Irish schools in a much more difficult and dangerous working environment than their counterparts in other countries.’   


 Exponential increase in workload   

‘95% of respondents indicated that there has been an increase in their workload in the new academic year as a result of preparing/adapting classes for the new workplace environment, while 95% also said that their work was significantly more difficult (58%) or somewhat more difficult (37%) at present compared to 12 months ago. Meanwhile, 92% of teachers believe that wearing a face covering during class makes their work more difficult or significantly more difficult.’   

Remote teaching and learning – digital divide must be bridged   

‘The closure of schools in March highlighted significant deficits in terms of ICT facilities around the country. These deficits must now be addressed so that the most vulnerable students do not lose out should additional remote learning be required at any point.   

52% of respondents do not believe that most students have the required ICT facilities to participate in remote learning, while 28% of teachers are not satisfied that they themselves have the required facilities. Meanwhile, 33% of teachers do not believe that broadband of sufficient quality is available in their school’s community to support remote learning.   

Training is also an issue here, with 46% believing that they have not received the relevant professional development. In addition, 86% of respondents found that the preparation, provision and associated work involved in providing classes remotely took more time or much more time than face-to-face delivery.’   

Effects of pay discrimination worsening   

‘At a time when many teachers are due to retire or else seriously considering retirement, the profession must remain attractive to the best graduates. That 89% of respondents believe that the ongoing two-tier pay system continues to damage morale shows that not only has the problem not gone away, but its hugely corrosive effects on the education system continue.   

TUI already has a strong mandate for industrial action on the unacceptable two-tier pay system following a ballot of members last year, with 19,000 members taking strike action in February 2020 on the issue. Unequal pay, which sees those employed after 1st January 2011 earning less than their colleagues, has resulted in a teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Until it is eliminated, the scourge of pay discrimination will continue to damage the profession and the service to students.’  

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