Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has warned that school staff and families need to see greater clarity and leadership from the Government, in order to ensure that the reopening of schools is sustainable.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire’s comments follow news that a third school has experienced a pupil testing positive for Covid-19.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Across the State this week, there have been many happy scenes of children returning to school. This is testament to the outstanding work of all school staff, who have been determined to safely reopen schools and ensure children do not miss out on more of their education.
“Now we need to ensure that the school doors remain open. This will be as challenging, if not more challenging than reopening them.
“We have unfortunately seen that three cases have already emerged in schools this week. Over the coming weeks and months, there may potentially be hundreds or thousands of families where parents may have to stay at home with a child who must isolate.
“We don’t want parents to feel panicked, but the Department must reassure parents and staff. It must do that by investment and delivering the correct policies.
“As it stands, there isn’t enough clarity from the Department about how our schools can stay open.
“Teachers and families need to have confidence that the Department of Education is on top of this issue and providing clear leadership and guidance.
“I believe there are five key priorities that must be immediately addressed so that the return to school is sustainable.
“They are priority testing, protecting jobs and incomes of families where children must stay home, reducing class sizes, tackling teacher shortages, and ensuring no child is left behind.
“We need rapid testing for students and staff, so that they can have confidence that their school environment is safe.
“In addition, parents must be confident that they will have access to paid leave, if they are required to look after a self-isolating school child. The return to school will not be sustainable, if parents are left to make the choice between doing the right thing and keeping their child at home and meeting the bills that are mounting up and a threat to their employment.
“It is clear that the reopening of schools has been made all the more difficult by the fact that we have the largest class sizes in Europe, and an underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded education system. We need to see long term investment to ensure our schools have more teachers and smaller class sizes.
“Similarly, many of our school buildings are too old, unfit for purpose and too cramped for social distancing. We need to see substantial investment in school buildings to end this.
“We are also facing significant teacher shortages, as staff are required to self-isolate. This could be addressed through expanding the hours of underemployed teachers who are seeking more hours.
“Furthermore, children with special educational needs and their families are being forced to choose between their SEN unit and mainstream class, and that their teachers will be pulled from pillar to post covering absences and remote learning. Specific guidance and additional support is immediately needed for these families.
“There is no doubt that the reopening of schools is vitally important. Sinn Féin wants a safe and sustainable reopening of schools, and we want to be constructive. We will continue to provide practical solutions to keep our children safe and ensure they do not miss out on more education.”