Hundreds of substitute teachers may be hired full-time to keep schools open

Parents urged to ensure children who travel abroad self-isolate before returning to school

The Department of Education officials say that if cases of Covid-19 are reported in schools, it may not require their entire closure

Hundreds of substitute teachers could be hired on a full-time basis in order to provide emergency cover to keep schools open, under plans being considered by the Department of Education.

Sick rates and teacher absences are likely to rise sharply in the new school year year in light of public health guidelines which advise teachers not to turn up for work if they have any Covid-19 symptoms.

The Department of Education’s secretary general, Seán Ó Foghlú, confirmed that officials are looking at the option of hiring panels of substitute teachers full-time or sharing substitutes between schools.

The Irish Primary Principals Network – which estimates that in the region of 300 full-time substitute teachers will be needed to provide cover for release days for teaching principals – has warned that a “crisis” in the supply of substitute teachers needs to be tackled first.


The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation also says significant numbers will be needed to provide cover for sick teachers.

The department is due to publish detailed guidelines on reopening of schools by the end of this month with the aim that all primary and secondary schools reopen fully in September.

Mr Ó Foghlú, speaking at the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19, said there was flexibility with physical distancing guidelines which should see all children to return to school for full days of classes as “safely and as normally as possible”.

However, he urged parents to ensure children who travel abroad for summer holidays self-isolate for 14 days before they return to school in September.

International travel

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on Friday evening that a key reason for the Government’s cautious approach to reopening international travel was to ensure all schools can reopen safely towards the end of August.

“We need to keep community transmission of the virus down, and that is why we will be cautious on the travel issue insofar as we can be within our jurisdiction,” he said.

Department officials have also confirmed that if cases of Covid-19 are reported in schools, it may not require their entire closure.

Instead, a class or a group within a class may be directed not to attend school and to self-isolate for 14 days.

This is on the basis of precautionary measures which will be in placed in schools to prevent the spread of the virus. These decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis by the health authorities.

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

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast