Covid: Supports for schools to be reviewed in light of Omicron wave

Aim is to reopen schools as planned in early January, Norma Foley says

A review of public health measures in primary schools is to take place in light of the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

It follows a meeting on Wednesday morning between Minister for Education Norma Foley, public health officials and education stakeholders

Latest figures, meanwhile, show the incidence of Covid-19 among primary school-aged children fell by almost a fifth last week, or more than a third in two weeks.

This drop coincides with the introduction of face-masks for children in primary schools from third class upwards.


Health Protection Surveillance Centre data shows the incidence of the virus among five-12-year-olds was 861 per 100,000 last week, down from 1,047 per 100,000 the previous week and 1,340 per 100,000 in early December.

At Wednesday’s meeting, public health officials agreed to review supports for primary schools, including addressing reporting mechanisms and response times in the case of outbreaks.

In addition, a public awareness campaign will be rolled out in advance of schools reopening in the new term to highlight the importance of symptomatic children not attending school.

Ms Foley said the public health supports are under constant review and the Department of Education will ensure any additional measures required are put in place.

She said the Government’s objective is to reopen schools as planned in early January, in line with public health advice.

Ms Foley said society was strongly of the view that the needs of children are best served when they attend in-person classes.

She said the latest public health information shows that the Covid-19 rates are falling among primary school-aged children.

Ms Foley said public health officials said the greatest driver of Covid-19 infection is within household settings, with much lower transmission rates in schools.

She said latest figures show that of 90,000 antigen tests provided to children or staff in schools who are close contacts of a positive case, there was a positivity rate of 3.6 per cent.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said it had called for meetings with education partners to continue during the holidays, and this had been agreed by Government.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said the primary system has been under acute pressure due to teachers and students either testing positive for Covid or being forced to self-isolate.

He also called for more public health supports to be provided to schools in dealing with outbreaks.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), meanwhile, said it secured a commitment to further meetings with the Department of Education and health experts prior to the reopening of schools in January.

ASTI president, Eamon Dennehy said the union was committed to keeping schools open, "as long as it is safe for students, teachers and other school staff. We continue to monitor the situation and to follow the latest public health advice."

Mr Dennehy said the union was seeking prioritising of ventilation and measures to ensure adequate heating in schools in the review of public health measures in schools

“Schools have been suffering from poor ventilation leading to the necessity to keep windows open in schools. As the winter progresses it is imperative that schools are provided with additional funding so that teaching and learning can take place in a safe and comfortable environment,” he said.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), meanwhile, called on the department to provide clear guidance and access to expertise on ventilation so that schools can best use the resources made available.

The union also said if individual schools require additional funding over and above what has been provided for such solutions, this must be made available.

"We have repeatedly made the point that that as a result of historic under-investment by international standards, Irish schools have been forced to tackle the huge challenges of Covid-19 with large class sizes, over-stretched pastoral support systems for students and education facilities often unsuited to modern teaching and learning," said TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent