A new survey of over 120 second level schools has illustrated the significant challenges and issues involved in a safe reopening for the new academic year. The online poll of a sixth of the total number of the country’s second level schools was carried out last week by the Principals’ and Deputy Principals’ Association of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI).
The survey findings:
- illustrate difficulties encountered employing contractors to make adjustments to school buildings,
- confirm that most schools will have both teachers in the very high-risk category themselves in terms of underlying health issues and teachers with family members who are vulnerable and
- highlight concerns and issues around recruiting substitute teachers,
The Union has re-iterated that its members will not accept any departure from the public health guidance on physical distancing and face coverings, stating that a school should not open until it is fully reconfigured to ensure that physical distancing measures can be adhered to.
The Union has also reiterated that If the initial budget set aside by Government proves insufficient, the required additional resources must be made immediately available.
TUI also believes that access to rapid Covid-19 testing will be required to help to limit disruption in schools.
Key findings of online survey of Principals and Deputy Principals in 124 schools carried out between 11th- 18th August:
Difficulties employing builders or contractors to make adjustments
- 47% of schools have encountered difficulties employing builders or other contractors with the required skills/expertise to make required adjustments
Health concerns of teachers
- 66% of respondents are aware of teachers in their schools with underlying health issues that puts them in the very high-risk category in terms of Covid-19
- 73% are aware of teachers in their school who live with family members who have underlying health issues that make them extremely vulnerable in terms of Covid-19
Difficulties employing substitute teachers
- 98% of schools have experienced difficulties employing substitute teachers over the past twelve months. 81% of these believe that pay discrimination is a significant factor in this
Teaching and learning
- 95% believe that teachers in their school want to return to face-to-face teaching and learning, but as TUI has consistently stated, this must be done in a manner that protects the health and safety of all
- 73% do not believe that students have the required IT facilities to participate in remote learning if their school was required to close for a period
Speaking this morning, TUI General Secretary Michael Gillespie said:
‘The safe re-opening of schools is an unprecedented challenge.
Should a school not be in a position to open as scheduled in a manner consistent with the physical distancing requirements set out by the public health authorities, a delay in opening is the only acceptable option.
There can be no departure from the specified physical distancing measures in schools. Every school must adhere to this key protection.
The survey findings highlight that most schools will have both teachers with underlying health issues that put them in the very high-risk category and also teachers who live with family members who have underlying health issues that make them extremely vulnerable in terms of Covid-19. This is a hugely stressful time for them. Our members have a range of justified concerns in this regard and we will continue to raise them on an ongoing basis with the Department.
There can be no limit on resources when the health and safety of students, teachers, other school staff and the wider community is at stake. If the initial budget proves insufficient, the required additional resources must be made immediately available.
In this regard, we also believe that access to rapid Covid-19 testing will be required to help to limit disruption in schools.’
Adrian Power, President of the Principals’ and Deputy Principals’ Association said:
‘By their very nature, schools are innovative places, but the recalibration of classrooms and buildings has proved massively challenging, so it is likely that some schools will require flexibility in terms of opening dates.
It must also be borne in mind that our education system was woefully underfunded before ever the current health emergency arose, with Ireland rock bottom in terms of spend on second level compared to other OECD countries. (OECD Education At A Glance 2019).
In addition, there has been a recruitment and retention crisis in schools for a number of years, with 98% indicating that they have experienced difficulties employing substitute teachers over the past twelve months. This will undoubtedly pose problems in the coming months should the need arise due to absences and there will be an ongoing need for funding from the Department.
The preference of teachers has always been a return to face-to-face teaching and learning, but this must of course by done in a safe manner.’