Primary schools likely to reopen on phased basis with smaller classes
School managers, teachers’ warn nothing will be the same due to public health rules
Schoolchildren wait in line to use the toilet in the schoolyard of the Sainte Aurelie primary school of Strasbourg, France. It has reopened its primary schools this week. Photograph: Jean-Francois Badias/AP Photo
Pupils listen to their teacher at the Saint-Exupery school in the Paris’ suburb of La Courneuve as primary schools in France re-open this week after an almost two-month closure. Photograph: Martin Bureay/AFP
Primary schools will need to reopen on a phased basis with smaller class sizes and pupils attending on certain days of the week, school managers and teachers have said.
The views of education stakeholders are contained in documents submitted to the Department of Education as part its consultation process over key issues to be considered if schools are to reopen safely.
Under the Government’s roadmap for easing Covid-19 restrictions, schools are due to reopen in September.
The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) submission states that not all children in a class will be able to attend school every day due to social distancing rules and distance learning will need to continue.
Teachers, it says, cannot be expected to provide remote teaching and learning for pupils at home after or alongside teaching the pupils who are attending school.
“Given the current guidance of physical distancing, it will be necessary in almost all schools to reduce the number of children attending at one time,” the document states.
“This will pose huge organisational challenges for schools and clear communication with parents will be necessary.”
It says measures should be put in place to assist children with physical distancing, including providing for smaller class groups, floor markings, new arrangements for assembly and break-time, as well as one-way access systems.
“We seek firm assurances that schools are not reopened prematurely and then might face a second period of enforced closure, which would only compound an already difficult situation,” the union says, in the document.
The largest primary school management body said a “phased return” to school may be required, along with a “rolling cycle of attendance”.
The Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) said this could see schools opening for certain cohorts of pupils at certain times or days of the week to help manage numbers.
It says risk assessments should be carried out in each school building and grounds to determine how many pupils could be accommodated in each classroom and other measures such as cleaning procedures , hot water requirements, personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.
Parents should also be surveyed on whether they plan to return their children to school, give that experience in other jurisdictions indicates that a minority of will not send children to school, at least initially.
If reduced numbers are required in the school on any one day, options include rotating on half days, daily basis, half weeks or a week-on, week-off rota for pupils.
Individual schools should have flexibility on what suits them best in consultation with all stakeholders, it states.
The INTO submission says staff and pupils should also have access to any personal protective equipment - such as face masks - which are recommended by public health advice.
This equipment should be centrally procured by health or education authorities and provided to schools.
In addition, it says schools should remain closed in cases where boards of management believe that a school cannot provide a safe environment.
Teachers in at-risk groups - such the over-60s and those with long-term medical conditions or weak immune systems - should be permitted to work from home.
The union is also seeking a specific clarification from the public health authorities of the level of risk – or of additional risk, if any - to pregnant teachers.
The CPSMA document also raises questions on how will children get to school and whether buses will still be available.
It also asks whether school start and finish times should be staggered to avoid large crowds arriving/leaving at the same time, along with one-way entry and exit routes.