Antigen tests to be introduced for primary schools from Monday, says Minister

Norma Foley says schools experiencing ventilation issues should ask department for advice

John Boyle of the INTO said he estimated that ‘a couple of thousand’ teachers were absent from work at present because of Covid, either because they had the virus or were close contacts. Photograph: Laurent Gillieron/EPA

John Boyle of the INTO said he estimated that ‘a couple of thousand’ teachers were absent from work at present because of Covid, either because they had the virus or were close contacts. Photograph: Laurent Gillieron/EPA

 

The Minister for Education has said antigen test guidance will be made available for primary schools and parents this week ahead of their introduction from Monday next November 29th.

The HSE is expected to provide the children’s tests to parents in cases where another child in their pod tests positive or where there are two or more cases in a class within a week.

Norma Foley has also said that schools experiencing difficulty with ventilation should contact her department for technical advice. She told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that more than 35,000 CO2 monitors had been installed in schools throughout the country, and that natural ventilation was the best possible source.

Schools with additional difficulties could contact engineers or architects or make use of a technical advice team in the department, she said.

Earlier, the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) repeated a call for a return to contract tracing in schools.

The Department of Education was “playing their part”, John Boyle told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland and it was now up to the Department of Health to organise public health measures such as a return to contact tracing.

There also needed to be a greater focus on PCR testing, said Mr Boyle. It was not necessary for children to be off school for two weeks when tested. If they had “the right result” they could return to the classroom, he said.

The Government was now acting on an European Centre for Disease Control report from October which had recommended contact tracing, he said. The report had also acknowledged that a shared classroom was a high risk environment; this meant there was a need to “amplify” measures, he said.

“If public health get back on the pitch, that would give sustenance to schools.”

On the staffing shortages, Mr Boyle said that the INTO “really appreciated” the efforts of the teacher training colleges where programmes were changed to facilitate students teachers working as substitutes in schools when teachers were absent because of Covid-19.

Mr Boyle said he estimated that “a couple of thousand” teachers were absent from work at present because of Covid-19, either because they had the virus or were close contacts.

The INTO welcomed the Department of Education’s efforts to bring student teachers into classrooms, added Mr Boyle. Most students had already been vetted as part of their school placement and many already worked as substitute teachers, being paid at an “unqualified rate”.

On Tuesday, Ms Foley announced a series of urgent measures aimed at tackling a staffing crisis facing schools including an extra 200 substitutes and moves to boost the supply of students and retired teachers.

Speaking on Wednesday Ms Foley said there were now 680 substitute teachers available to provide emergency cover to schools. Many of these teachers are already available to go into classrooms, and more would become available soon, she said.

The shortage of substitute teachers was more acute in some areas than others and a combination of measures would be needed to tackle the problem, she added.

Ms Foley defended planning by her department, she said that many of the plans now being implemented had been in place last August, but that Covid “takes many twists and turns.”

“We have to be resilient and flexible at given times to introduce new measures as required. “That is exactly what we have done at this point. And indeed we will continue to do going forward.”

Ms Foley said these were “exceptionally challenging times” for schools, but said that the Department of Education had followed public health advice every step of the way, and expert public health advice and evaluation remained that schools were places of low transmission.