Easing the burden on schools

 

Sir, – The concerns set out by Prof Selina McCoy and Dr Eamonn Carroll (“Covid response leaves no surprise that tensions are rising across school system”, Opinion & Analysis, September 23rd) are timely and valid.

Plans to reopen schools were issued in late July, leaving little time to put in place the required adjustments or to employ builders or other contractors to carry out the necessary work.

Aided by phenomenal commitment from their colleague teachers, principals and deputy principals pulled out all the stops to make sure that their schools could open as safely as possible, while still carrying out their normal, hectic, back-to-school duties.

A survey carried out by the Principals’ and Deputy Principals’ Association of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland highlights some alarming trends at second level.

Over the previous four weeks, almost half of principals had worked more than 12 hours every weekday, with respondents also clocking up significant numbers of hours at weekends.

Our members are already exhausted. In the same survey, a significant number said they were unable to take holidays during the summer, meaning that this school year feels like an extension of the last. They are gravely concerned by the relentless pressure of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

The significant extra burden of Covid-19 related duties along with the traditional pressures of their roles are taking a serious toll on their health and wellbeing.

Some principals are already considering retiring early from the profession as a result of the huge increase in workload and the resulting additional stress.

At the very least, a range of additional measures are required to ease the burden on schools.

There needs to be a restoration of the middle-management structures that allow school communities to function properly. An additional post for the growing range of Covid-19 related duties should also be seriously considered to allow principals and deputy principals to fully engage in the business of leading teaching and learning. The bureaucratic overload that has blighted schools in recent years needs to be eased as a matter of urgency. In a measure that would not cost anything, there must be a limit on form-filling and box-ticking and an easing of the avalanche of paperwork.

School staff must have access to a test on the day that they first experience possible Covid-19 symptoms, with a guarantee of a result within 24 hours.

Money spent here would be offset by savings in terms of required substitution cover. Failure to ensure this will result in significant disruption in schools in the coming weeks and months.

Teacher retirements are likely in the coming months for a variety of reasons, but worryingly there has been a recruitment and retention crisis in our schools for several years now, as highlighted by successive surveys conducted by our association.

The two-tier pay system must be ended to ensure that the teaching profession remains attractive.

Principals, deputy principals and other staff have worked tirelessly and made huge personal sacrifices to ensure that schools could reopen in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, but the Department of Education must now match this commitment by providing the additional resources that are so desperately required. – Yours, etc,

ADRIAN POWER,

President,

Principals’ and Deputy

Principals’ Association,

Teachers’ Union of Ireland,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.