Department of Education inspectors have found that 98 per cent of schools are complying with Covid-19 safety rules such as physical distancing and providing access to hand sanitiser.
The department’s inspectorate has been visiting schools since last October to help ensure education settings are operating safely. While the results of hundreds of these checks have been shared with school leaders, they have not been made available to parents.
However, records released under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that just 10 schools out of 487 inspected between October and December had failed to implement fully their Covid-19 response plans.
In these cases, breaches included not formally signing off safety plans; individuals not wearing face masks in line with public health advice; no physical distancing in staffrooms; failure to provide logbooks for school visitors to sign; lack of awareness over rules for dealing with suspected cases; and not making safety rules available to staff, pupils or parents.
All instances of non-compliance were highlighted and rectified by the schools concerned. Notwithstanding the findings, some school principals have expressed frustration that they do not have space in their schools to ensure full compliance with physical distancing rules.
Teachers’ unions have also called for additional safety measures such as face masks for older pupils at primary level and air quality control monitors in classrooms.
The Department of Education, however, has said these measures have not been recommended by public health authorities.
It says funding of almost €650 million has been put in place for recommended safety measures such as PPE, sanitation and additional cleaning.
Meanwhile, some teachers have expressed concern that schools are pressing ahead with mock exams for Leaving Cert classes of up to three hours and 20 minutes in duration without any formal public health advice.
The State Examinations Commission has advised that secondary schools and teachers should not hold mock exams and that available class time should focus on teaching and learning with students.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland has also advised its members that running mock exams is “contrary to public health advice and would put the health and safety of staff, students and all of the school community in jeopardy”.
One teacher said their school in Co Louth was conducting mock exams over a 12-day period on an optional basis outside of tuition time.
The school has advised that students will be told to take a mask break every 40 minutes and will ensure the school gym is safely ventilated with students spaced out.
Minister for Education Norma Foley has said her department's guidance is that mock exams are neither recommended nor advised.
“It has always been within the remit of schools to decide whether they would hold mock exams,” she told the Dáil recently. “Even prior to the pandemic, that autonomy has always rested with schools. We have advised in our guidelines that the maximum time be spent on in-class tuition and it is for that reason we have stated that they are neither recommended nor advised, although there is autonomy within schools in regard to mock exams.”