Education sector calls for guidance on how to use ventilation funds

Schools and childcare facilities to get €72 million in Covid grants

The education sector has welcomed the announcement of additional Covid funding for ventilation, but called for access to expertise on the best way to utilise the grants.

On Monday Minister for Education Norma Foley announced €62 million in minor works grants as part of additional pandemic-related supports for primary, post-primary and special schools.

Separately, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman announced €10 million in funding to improve ventilation in creches.

Schools will have flexibility in how they use the funding to improve their premises, including the purchase of high-efficiency particulate-absorbing filter (Hepa) machines, if they are deemed necessary.

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A department circular will be issued in the coming days with respect to this funding.

The move has been largely welcomed by representatives from the sector, who had been raising concerns about high levels of Covid-19 in children, particularly those in primary school.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) said Monday’s announcement was a “step in the right direction”.

"Over the last number of months we have highlighted the critical role ventilation can play within our primary and special schools, as we combat an ever increasing level of infection among those who work at and attend our primary and special schools," John Boyle, general secretary of the INTO, said.

However, the INTO reiterated its call for the reinstatement of other “vital supports”.

‘Come so late’

“The absence of public health risk assessments, contact tracing and PCR testing from the primary school sector over the last 10 weeks,when the rate of infection among five to 12-year-old children increased forty fold has impacted negatively on schooling since late September,” Mr Boyle said.

Michael Gillespie, general secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), said it was "crucial" the department provided access to expertise on ventilation and related issues "so that schools can best use the resources available".

The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) welcomed the news but said it was “unfortunate” the announcement has “come so late”.

Darragh Whelan, director of Childhood Services Ireland, the Ibec trade association for childcare providers, said: "We all know now that good ventilation is key in reducing the spread of Covid-19 and this grant will help providers purchase HEPA filters which have been recommended by public health experts."

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times