Covid-19: More cash needed to reopen schools, say principals

Covid-19 Oireachtas committee told special schools face challenges restarting

Alan Mongey, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said his organisation would like to see a full return of all students to school in late August-September, “provided it is safe, practical and possible to do so for students, all school staff and school leaders”. Photograph: PA

Alan Mongey, president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said his organisation would like to see a full return of all students to school in late August-September, “provided it is safe, practical and possible to do so for students, all school staff and school leaders”. Photograph: PA

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Additional funding must be provided to schools to enable them to implement in full Department of Education guidelines for reopening, the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) has said.

In a submission to the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee, chief executive of IPPN Páiric Clerkin also said special schools would “face huge challenges in reopening their school buildings in September”.

The IPPN, the professional body for the leaders of Irish primary schools, also told the committee teaching principals needed to be provided with additional leadership and management time.

“Simply put, they cannot be expected to teach as well as lead their schools through the reopening phase.”

‘Substitute cover’

Mr Clerkin said in an opening statement: “ To enable schools to manage during the reopening phase, substitute cover is needed for every absence.”

“ Schools also need to have flexibility in how they allocate staff to comply with social distancing requirements, including arrangements for shared special education and EAL (English as an additional language) teachers who work in multiple classrooms and/or in multiple schools, while ensuring that the most vulnerable children receive the required support.”

He said the centralised procurement and distribution to all schools of appropriate and sufficient personal protective equipment and cleaning materials prior to their full reopening in the autumn would greatly alleviate schools of a significant burden over the summer months.

Mr Clerkin said: “Training specific to schools is needed, particularly in relation to supporting children with special educational needs, as there are specific concerns and issues that will pose significant challenges for school staff with regard to intimate care needs.

‘Cleaning staff’

“In addition, specific training is required for cleaning staff, staff reps, compliance officers and school leaders. The training being prepared by the Health and Safety Authority needs to be expanded to address these cohorts.

“Special schools face huge challenges in reopening their school buildings in September. They will require extra personnel and protective personal equipment equipment, as well as very clear guidance and training on the intimate care challenges they will face day-to-day in schools, and funding to support the purchase of extra resources to limit the sharing of materials in or between classes.”

Alan Mongey president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals told the committee his organisation would like to see a full return of all students to school in late August-September, “provided it is safe, practical and possible to do so for students, all school staff and school leaders”.

He said post-primary schools varied from 100 pupils to more than 1,500. Each had its own unique factors which would affect what a return to school may look like.

“A one size fits all solution to school reopening will not work,” he said.

He added that each school required the appointment or reallocation of a member of staff to act as a Covid-19 assistant while a financial package was needed to fund the implementation of the reopening guidelines.

“Blended learning for post-primary education will form part of our future practice. There must be clarity, however, as to what we mean by blended learning and what are the expectations of schools in this regard. There must be clear guidance produced by the Department of Education and Skills to ensure equity of provision for all students.”

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