Paul Walsh, who took over as the principal of St Joseph's College in Garbally, Ballinasloe, Co Galway, in August 2020, believes that remote learning should have been brought back in operation once schools reopened after Christmas.
“I’d say possibly a quarter to a third of our students are at home anyway and they’re not being taught,” he said. “I think we would be better if we moved to remote teaching and learning for a couple of weeks.”
The school has 14 teachers out and is depending heavily on student teachers: “We’re very fortunate we have a good bank of [them]. Without [them], we would be in trouble and they have been great,” he said.
The Emergency Substitution Scheme brought in last November, whereby teachers are now allowed to work more than 22 hours, has also been “a huge help”, the principal said.
He favours a sit-down Leaving Certificate examination in June. “I think we’re probably better off to aim for the Leaving Cert. It’s a topic that everyone has an opinion on. I know [Leaving Cert students] have missed quite a bit last year, as well.”
Every habit and tradition in the school has changed because of Covid-19, with parent-teacher meetings replaced by well-organised evening calls. “It worked well last year. Some say it’s the way forward,” he added.
Garbally College uses carbon-dioxide monitors and has hepa air filters – including two in special-needs classes and the other in the staffroom, because "they have the biggest congestion of people", said Joan Madden, the school's Covid officer since the beginning of the pandemic.
Ms Madden has taken charge of ensuring that classrooms are ready and supplied with PPE, masks, sanitisers and the dispensers.
Initially, stock had to be bought from a list of suppliers set by the Department of Education, which left Madden finding it “tough” to cover the school’s needs because the listed suppliers could not supply stock.
"The Department of Education saw sense after a while and allowed us to buy from a local supplier. We began ordering from a local man, Tom Monaghan, in Craughwell, Co Galway, and Ocean Hygiene.
“If I rang him on a Tuesday, ‘Tom, I need 1,000 masks’, I’d have them on Friday. So yes, in the beginning, it was torture. We had to get the Joint Managerial Board involved just to get our supply of PPE,” she said.
* This article has been amended to reflect that Paul Walsh became principal of Garbally College in August 2020, not August 2021