Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has commended the efforts of school communities in reopening schools this week but stated that the challenges they faced were enormous.
Speaking today, the Cork South Central TD said that the survey by the National Principals Forum highlighted the severe pressures schools were facing, and showed that to keep schools open safely, there was still a need for significant additional mitigations.
According to the survey, only some 20% of schools had a full cohort of staff, an average of 25% of SNAs were not available to schools, and 45% of schools had to use Special Education teachers to cover absences.
“School communities, parents, and staff have worked extremely hard to get schools open this week, and I know they would have been under very severe pressure and strain in doing so, simply even to get anywhere near adequate staff.
“They are the people who deserve the credit. They go to great lengths to protect and support our children. They want to be in the classroom teaching.
“However to ensure they can keep doing that, the Government cannot keep pretending that their mitigation measures are adequate, they simply are not.
“The Government’s approach cannot be about getting schools open and then considering it a case of ‘job done’. We have to push on and we have to do what is so plainly necessary to keep schools open.
“Today’s survey from the National Principals Forum highlights the fact that school staff are holding it all together under immense pressure. They are being stretched, and we cannot keep asking schools staff to stetch themselves further and further and expect nothing to give.
“We also see that special education will suffer because of resources being redirected and it is obvious now that the Minister needs to reverse her position on banked hours.
“I wrote to the Minister before Christmas, urging her to take the Christmas break to ensure that the measures necessary were taken. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and it was left to the 11th hour, causing a lot of stress and worry to school staff, parents, and especially children.
“It is a very good thing for children to be in school, yet despite this it is clear that many schools are struggling to keep going. I am getting reports today from teachers of schools with over 20 staff missing.
“We need HEPA filtration systems in every classroom, schools are blue in the face from saying this, and because they don’t have them, you have classrooms today where the children and staff are enduring fairly serious cold because they have to keep the windows open.
That is wrong and should not have to be happening.
“The casual attitude of the Department is illustrated by the messing over medical grade masks for staff, saying that it is up to the school to pay for these and not the Department. Most schools cannot afford that. The reality is many teachers will end up paying themselves out of their own pocket.
“The Minister is keen to tell us how Education is such a priority. If this is the case then she needs to prove it, she needs to get HEPA filters in to classrooms, proper support for schools, and pay for the PPE and cleaning school needs.
“We must do all we can to keep schools open, in a way that is safe.
“School leaders and staff are going the extra mile to support and protect our children. Now we must go the extra mile to protect and support them. It is obvious what is needed, we now need the Minister to do her job and get on with it.”