ASTI member calls for research on Long Covid among teachers

Ruth Coppinger says teachers were ‘thrown to the wolves’ during Covid-19 pandemic

Trade unions should carry out research into the effect of Long Covid among teachers in Ireland as those working in schools are among the most likely to be impacted by the effects of the illness, a delegate told the ASTI convention in Cork.

Ruth Coppinger of Dublin South Branch said that people needed to recognise the reality of what teaching through Covid-19 was for the majority of teachers with many teachers catching Covid-19 and many still suffering the effects of long Covid.

“It would be very interesting if the ASTI did research on long Covid, because in the UK, after health care workers, the second biggest sufferers of long Covid are teachers — I would ask the union would collect that data because it’s not just about deaths, it’s about long Covid.

“Apparently the biggest single group of people with long Covid is women between the ages of 40 and 60, that’s probably not accidental because that’s the profile of a front line worker and I think it’s really important that the union is collecting that data.”


Ms Coppinger received loud applause when she said that the manner in which pregnant and vulnerable teachers were asked to continue teaching classes during Covid was “a disgrace” and amounted to them being “thrown to the wolves”.

And she criticised Minister for Education Norma Foley for her repeating of the mantra throughout the pandemic that schools were safe places when it was evident that schools were the biggest single source of transmission of the virus.

Ms Coppinger also highlighted the lack of support for schools during the pandemic, saying she herself had never seen a hepa filter in her school while focussing on ventilation as a solution to curb the spread of the virus led to freezing conditions for staff and students.

“I want to ask how many schools closed during the pandemic because they weren’t reaching the required temperature — one school closed and what that tells us is that school stewards and members of the union don’t feel empowered to challenge (over the issue). — “It was freezing in schools for the last few years — it was an absolute nightmare — teachers weren’t even supplied with masks, I had one cloth mask that I used all year and then suddenly after Christmas we were told we could ask for masks.”

Ms Coppinger said that there was serious disillusionment among teachers about how the unions had handled the pandemic and that was evident from looking around the convention and seeing the burnout among members and low turnout because people still feared Covid.

“We had a motion which was to protect us and it did protect that first year – we weren’t forced back to school after Christmas last year but we were forced back this year,” said Ms Coppinger, adding that the pandemic could have been used to introduce smaller class sizes.

However, ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie told delegates in his address that he believed the union had “stood up well in difficult times” during the pandemic which caused havoc across all strands of society which would not be forgotten.

“For our part, we sought to balance the overriding importance of keeping school communities safe while protecting the rights of our teachers to teach and their students to learn,” he said, adding teachers had met the challenge of remote teaching and calculated grades.

Mr Christie said the ASTI leadership had done its best and while it didn’t get everything right, it had made some key interventions including ensuring that a proper indemnity was put in place to allow ASTI members to engage in the calculated grades process.

The ASTI leadership had also intervened to ensure the effective closure of schools in January 2021 because returning to the classroom at that point was too dangerous while it also won concessions on school attendance for pregnant and medically high risk teachers, he said.

“We negotiated an allocation of over 1,000 teachers at second level as a pandemic support as well as other related support for schools,” said Mr Christie, adding that the union also negotiated a Covid-19 capitation grant to provide for enhanced cleaning.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times