Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has welcomed the news that school staff and children will be fast-tracked for testing, but has said that a great deal more is now needed to ensure schools remain open in the coming weeks.
“Schools are re-opening thanks to the huge efforts of principals, teachers and school staff, along with parents and transport providers. It has been a phenomenal effort and we owe them all a huge debt.
“Now we need to focus on keeping schools open. We will face greater challenges in the weeks and months ahead because we have some of the largest class sizes in Europe and the government seems determined to keep them that way.
“Rapid testing of students and school staff is something we have sought, and have raised with the Minister, and I am glad that the Minister has now agreed to this.
“It is an essential component of keeping schools open. However, there are many other crucial elements as well, which I have raised directly with the Minister today, and will be doing so again next week.
“We must support parents to keep their children at home when they have symptoms, by ensuring they are not out of pocket. The expansion of Force Majeure leave needs to be part of this.
“We also need to rapidly tackle overcrowded classrooms by putting an end to the days of classrooms of 30 or more by bringing the pupil-teacher ratio down.
“I have previously called on the Minister to undertake an audit to identify the schools under the greatest pressure for space, and to prioritise them for additional construction or acquisition of space to ensure schools can achieve social distancing. She needs to begin that process now.
“The results of our recent survey of schools found that 48.5% of schools felt that they did not have sufficient staffing levels to meet their schools needs upon reopening, and 76% of those surveyed did not believe they would have sufficient access to substitution should a teacher become unwell. These issues also need to be addressed urgently.
“Keeping schools open in a safe and sustainable way must now be the priority, and Sinn Féin will be providing solutions to ensure that happens.”