Kinnegad school: ‘We have a seven-acre site and can stagger access’
Substitute teachers, EPV days, split classes and technology cause concern at St Etchen’s
Monica Hickey, fifth class teacher, and Matt Melvin, principal, at St Etchen’s National School, Kinnegad: “I would come into school with a head cold or the flu. But next year, I can’t come into school with a flu,” says Mr Melvin. Photograph: Alan Betson
Matt Melvin, the principal of the 540-pupil St Etchen’s National School in Kinnegad, Co Westmeath, is “fairly sure” that he will be able to open his school next month, but he is not sure about others.
“We have a seven-acre site. We can easily stagger access and egress with four yards, a large car park and large classrooms. I’d be concerned about whether smaller schools could reopen.
“I know a school in Mullingar with small yards and I don’t know how they’ll manage,” said Melvin, who worries, too, about whether the €41.2 million budgeted to pay extra substitute teachers will be enough.
“I don’t know how they came up with this figure, but I think it might not be enough. We need more detail on the number of substitute teachers that will be available,” he said.
“In my own personal circumstances, I haven’t taken sick leave in eight years. I would come into school with a head cold or the flu. But next year, I can’t come into school with a flu.
“And you can’t have a substitute covering 15 schools for example, because they will be shut in clusters if there is an outbreak, so there needs to be a small limit on the number of the schools they cover.”
Some of his 30-strong teaching staff are concerned they will be asked to forego their three annual extra personal vacation (EPV) days if colleagues are out sick.
EPV allowances consume 90 teaching days in his school alone: “That’s a huge issue in schools – if they are not covered it will lead to a lot of difficulties,” he said.
In past years, a shortage of a teacher could be fixed short-term by splitting pupils among other classes, but this cannot happen now.
“I suspect they might be planning to use special education or resource teachers to cover classrooms that don’t have a teacher, but they don’t want to say it.”
More clarity is also needed on the technology that will be made available if a school has to stay shut for days because of an outbreak, he said.
Schools, though, should give the plan “a fair wind” as long as the Department of Education remained flexible in tweaking it, if and when it is needed as the weeks and months go on.
“It would be churlish not to say a lot of work has been put into this. It is a lot of money too. But the department can be very rigid at times – rules are rules – and it needs to have an open mind, be adroit and adaptable.”