Difficulties in reopening schools

 

Sir, – The task facing those who work in schools over the next month is a mammoth one. Some of the suggestions described in the Government’s roadmap will be very difficult to achieve while others are impossible, at least within the timeframe (Home News, July 28th).

Securing an adequate supply of fully qualified teachers is one of the most serious challenges. Prof Judith Harford and I have pointed out, in these columns, that a teacher supply problem has been allowed to develop to a crisis stage in recent years (Opinion, August 29th, 2018 and July 24th, 2019).

Unfortunately, no significant steps to address this matter have ensued.

The proposals in the roadmap are unlikely to solve the problem. There are currently something of the order of 500 teachers working on secondment to the Department of Education and its various agencies. All, no doubt, are doing important work. Yet, is anything more important in an education system than what transpires in classrooms? Also, there will be no school inspections this year, thus freeing up a couple of hundred more. Surely, as a first step, these fully qualified teachers should be made available to schools?

As well as the immediate issues there are some long-term ones that need to be addressed. Your Editorial (“Time for clarity and certainty”, July 25th) reminds us that the closure of schools will have impacted most severely on those in Deis schools. Summer “learning loss” is a well-established phenomenon in schools serving disadvantaged areas. The extended period of closure these students have experienced will, almost certainly, widen the gap between them and their peers. The fact that this issue is not seriously addressed in the roadmap is an unacceptable omission. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRIAN FLEMING,

School of Education, UCD,

Dublin 4.

A chara, – Would it be too much to ask that unions, the Teaching Council and the Department for Education all clarify that when they refer to the provision of substitutes in teaching they are actually referring to personnel with teaching qualifications?

I was involved in a campaign over 30 years ago to achieve substitute supply panels at primary level. The pilot schemes subsequently set up were disbanded as one of the first educational cuts in 2008.

Since I entered teaching in 1989 I have witnessed a continuous lack of supply of qualified substitutes on one hand and the employment of unqualified personnel on the other.

I cannot think of another area of work where such a disregard for professional training and qualifications exists.

The fact that this situation has been allowed to continue unaddressed in any real way, decade after decade, with the exception of the token gesture of a few panels being reintroduced last year, shows just how little regard we really have had for children’s learning, welfare and protection.

I suggest that if wellbeing for children is a priority for reopening, then training and funding qualified substitutes should be too. – Is mise,

ANNMARIE LEONARD,

Donabate,Co Dublin.

Sir, – Instead of face masks might it not be better for every student and teacher to wear a face shield that would offer some protection while allowing facial and verbal interaction to be optimised as well?

The cost of this measure should be borne by the State as it is in all our interests in helping fight Covid-19. – Yours, etc,

TONY FITZGIBBON,

Limerick.

Sir, – Surely a record? Surely an oversight? Not one paragraph pertaining to Special Needs Assistants (SNAs)in the Minister’s much-anticipated document for the reopening of schools. – Yours, etc,

KATHY SCALLY,

Douglas,

Cork.

Sir, – It feels strange to mention the words “coronavirus” and “opportunity” together in the same sentence given the untold suffering and societal changes this dreadful disease has caused.

However, the two do fit when it comes to school reopenings. The availability of additional funds for hiring substitute teachers is welcome. However, many within the profession feel that as opposed to using these additional funds to merely cover anticipated staff absences, it would be more pertinent to redirect this finance to reduce class sizes going forward.

Over time this could bring about a revolution in the learning outcomes of those less fortunate learners. Not just those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds but also children with various learning difficulties, especially those with special educational needs (SEN). Smaller class sizes would mean those who are often left behind could receive the additional in-class support, personalised differentiation and attention that is not always possible in large classes.

Furthermore, learning is not merely confined to the memorisation of facts and figures. Those disadvantaged and SEN pupils often struggle with social and emotional issues and the supports available are very thinly stretched. Some of the money could certainly be best utilised by hiring specialist mental health staff as well as providing training to existing staff for a truly holistic education. – Yours, etc,

TOM MORRIS,

Co Offaly.

Sir, –  I teach in the largest secondary school in the country and I’m highly amused at the Minister’s suggestion that we use “spare classrooms” and “libraries”, because we have neither.

We are at full capacity, and then some. We also share our town and our community with another large secondary school, so I can imagine the joys of deciding who gets which “community hall” or “parish hall”. Good luck with that. I can already see the GAA and the local hotel owners rubbing their hands with glee instead of sanitiser! Let the bidding wars for conference rooms and sports halls begin. Fair play to Ms Norma Foley for helping to boost the local economy with monies designated for “education”. – Yours, etc,

KATHARINA GREINER,

Gorey,

Co Wexford,

A chara, – I am very happy to be retired. I was a school principal for about 20 years and the thought of trying to organise a safe reopening of a school next month fills me with fear. It was bad enough trying to get staff and new books all in place for the return of the kids, but now sanitising and furniture spacing and a host of other precautions need to be in place.

When the schools are eventually given the green flag, it will only take one child with Covid-19 to turn up and maybe bring a whole school to a sudden stop. That little spark of infection could find its way into many unsuspecting homes with devastating results. I don’t wish to be an old, retired, pessimistic grump, but I can’t get optimistic about this move. I really hope I’m being alarmist with no cause to be. – Is mise,

PAT BURKE WALSH,

Gorey,

Co Wexford.

Sir, – When I completed my Leaving Certificate in 1981 I did so in a school which relied heavily on prefabricated classrooms. Now 40 years later we still have children who will be completing the Leaving Certificate in schools which relies heavily on prefabricated classrooms. The utter failure of successive governments to adequately plan for a modern school infrastructure with reasonably small classroom sizes to allow for higher quality pedagogic interaction has been laid bare by this Covid-19 crisis. – Yours, etc,

BRIAN M LUCEY,

Trinity Business School,

Dublin.