Cutting holidays to make up time unfair, say schools

Department of Education allows three days holidays to be used for tuition

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation  said there were plenty of options to make up lost time other than cutting short holidays. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said there were plenty of options to make up lost time other than cutting short holidays. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

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School managers say any move to cut short Easter holidays in order to make up for lost tuition time due to adverse weather would be “unfair” on parents and teachers.

A Department of Education circular for schools allows for up to three days of the Easter holidays to be used to make up for “unforeseen” school closures.

Many schools across the State have lost up to a week or more of tuition due to snow and ice and disruption linked to Storm Ophelia last October.

However, the Catholic Primary School Management Association said it did not feel it was necessary to cut short holidays to make up for lost time.

“I think attempting to make up for lost time during the Easter break would be unfair both to parents and teachers as many will have already made plans and booked holidays for the Easter period which is only a few weeks away,” said Seamus Mulconry, the association’s general secretary.

“The relevant circular gives a great deal of flexibility as to how schools can make up the time and ensure the curriculum is taught and that flexibility should be fully utilised before looking at other measures.

“The important thing is to teach the curriculum; the days are a means to an end not an end in themselves.”

Other options

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) also said there were plenty of options other than cutting short holidays.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that primary schools will shorten their Easter holiday because there are so many other levers to press. They can prioritise literacy and numeracy within teaching and learning, for example, or shorten non-tuition activity . . . there’s real flexibility,” an INTO spokesman said.

Second-level school managers and teachers’ unions also signalled there were enough options to make up for lost teaching time rather than reducing holidays.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), which represents secondary teachers, said the department’s circular offered a range of alternative routes.

These included prioritising learning in the classroom over tours and similar events and ensuring students in examination years attend all classes to the end of May.

“We believe that the utilisation of these measures will allow schools to make up deficits in tuition that have occurred as a result of the closures,” a TUI spokesman said.

The Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI) did not comment in detail beyond stating it was advising members of the contents of the department’s circular on contingency arrangements.

State exams

School management bodies which represent most second-level schools, such as the Joint Managerial Body and Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) said teachers would go “the extra mile” in ensuring Junior and Leaving Cert students are prepared for the State exams.

The Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools said it had requested teachers to complete training programmes online during the recent school shutdown in order to free up additional teaching time. A spokesman for the department, meanwhile, emphasised that “significant flexibility” is given to schools to make up tuition hours lost due to unforeseen circumstances.

“One option is to reduce the Easter holidays, but this is one of many choices available to schools,” he said.

The spokesman said there were no current plans to revise the circular which is in place until the 2019/20 school year.

The operation of these arrangements is due to be reviewed no later than the autumn of 2019.

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