Q&A: Schools reopen Thursday, but will children be asked to stay at home?

TY and older primary pupils most likely to face remote learning in event of staff shortages

Schools are reopening on Thursday, but how likely is it that my child will be able to attend classes on-site?

All schools are due to reopen as scheduled, but it comes with a caveat: will they have enough staff to provide classes as normal?

Principals and school managers estimate that between 15 and 20 per cent of staff will be absent. Some smaller schools say they are facing enforced staff absences of up to 50 per cent or more.

The result is that while school managers expect the vast majority will reopen, some individual classes may be asked to stay at home over the coming days and weeks due to difficulties finding enough substitute cover.

Which primary classes are most likely to be asked to remain at home in the event of staff shortages?

Department of Education guidance is being issued to schools on which classes should be prioritised for face-to-face teaching.


At primary level, it states that schools should maximise in-person teaching for children with special needs in special and mainstream schools.

Younger class groups – such as junior, senior infants and first classes, for example – are also being prioritised as they are less able to adapt to remote teaching and learning. Older classes are more likely to be asked to remain at home if there is disruption.

And what secondary classes are most likely to be asked to remain at home?

At second level, the guidance states that schools should maximise on-site education for State examination year groups (third and sixth years) and fifth year classes. They are also advised to prioritise in-person teaching for children with special needs.

Principals say, in practice, this means transition year (TY) students are the most likely to be asked to stay at home, followed by second and first years.

Who decides which classes must stay at home?

Official guidance states that schools should contact the Department of Education’s inspectorate for advice when deciding to keep classes at home.

Schools have been asked to make every effort to find substitute cover – including the use of supply panels, student teachers and non-classroom teachers (such as principals) – prior to sending a class home.

Will remote learning be available to children if they can’t attend schools?

The official guidance is that “every effort” should be made to provide remote teaching.

Some primary principals say that switching to online teaching isn’t as simple as turning an “on-off” switch and this requires preparation. Others say it will depend on the availability of staff who are not sick and in a position to teacher remotely.

At second level, unions say subject teachers will face major challenges trying to juggle in-person teaching and remote teaching; having all students either in or out of school is easier, they say.

What’s the latest health guidance for pupils on attending school?

Any children who have symptoms of Covid-19 should stay at home, isolate and arrange to have a PCR test.

If a pupil is identified as a close contact of a case in their household, they will have to restrict their movement as per national guidelines for household close contacts and get a PCR test as soon as possible.

Are antigen tests being made available for pupils?

When a principal is notified that a child who has been in school during the infectious period has a positive PCR test, they are asked to text the parents of other children in the pod to let them know how they can access free antigen tests for their children.

If there is more than one PCR positive case in a class then antigen tests can be arranged for the entire class. All children in the pod/class can continue to attend school as long as they remain asymptomatic and they do not have a positive Covid-19 antigen or PCR test result.

How long are schools likely to face this scale of disruption?

Education partners briefed by public health officials say they were told the peak of the current wave of the virus is likely to be reached in or around mid-January.

Based on the experience of other jurisdictions, infection levels are expected to fall sharply after this point. As a result, schools are bracing themselves for several weeks of potential disruption.