Reopening schools: €375m plan will see more than 1,000 extra post-primary teachers

At primary level each class will be a bubble and children will be in pods

Pupils will not be required to wear face masks in class under public health guidelines to be issued to schools this week, it is understood. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Pupils will not be required to wear face masks in class under public health guidelines to be issued to schools this week, it is understood. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

The Government has agreed a financial package to support schools reopening in late August worth over €375 million which includes more than 1,000 extra post-primary teaching posts, a post-Cabinet briefing has heard.

“There is no zero risk scenario but we can dramatically limit the risk of the virus through our schools,” Taoiseach Micheál Martin told a post Cabinet briefing on Monday.

The reopening of schools posed an “unprecedented policy and logistical challenge” for the country, he said.

Additional substitute educators, supervision staff, guidance counsellors and psychologists will also be part of the initiative to ensure it is safe.

An additional €52 million will pay for enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission, the Government said. All teaching principals at primary level will receive a minimum of one release day per week to relieve the administrative burden arising from the changes and coronavirus recovery.

An extra €75 million will support preparing buildings and classrooms for reopening, including an uplift for those with special educational needs pupils. A total of €4.2 million will enable employment of an aide to implement logistical changes needed in schools — moving furniture, changing classroom layouts, setting up hand sanitising stations and signage.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said: “We have worked extremely hard to develop plans that not only provide certainty to schools as to what they need to do, but that are meaningful, practical and realistic.

“These have been informed by the expertise and collaboration of the stakeholders, and truly take account of how schools operate on a day-to-day basis.”

The 1,080 extra teaching posts will be available to post-primaries in recognition of challenges they face around social distancing. One-metre spacing between post-primary students may require refurbishment of schools, as smaller groups will be taught together.

Younger children will not be expected to socially distance. At primary level each class will be a bubble and children will be in pods with a metre between the pods.

More than one million students and approximately 100,000 staff will be returning to 4,000 schools at the end of August, in a key priority of the new Government.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: “There is simply no substitute for students learning within schools in the presence of their peers and teachers.”

An extra 120 guidance workers will be hired to support student wellbeing. Face masks will not be essential for staff or students.

Mr Martin said “Our schools are at the heart of our communities and reopening them is a critical step in recovering from the worst impact of the pandemic.

“It is a comprehensive range of measures backed by major new resources.

“Extra staff, extra funding, clear guidance and new supports will help every school adapt to its own needs.”

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals said the guidance offered long-awaited clarity. Director Clive Byrne said: “We look forward to welcoming an additional 1,000 teachers to our schools and will move to recruit these as soon as possible.

“Additional teaching and support staff will allow us to maintain social distancing and public health requirements while we work to maintain a strong standard of education.” - Additional reporting PA