Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that there are still issues that need to be resolved to ensure that schools can remain open in the weeks and months ahead.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire will submit a document detailing these issues to Minister Norma Foley before meeting her this week, and will publish this document subsequently.
Speaking today, the Cork South Central TD outlined what he believes are the key elements to ensuring that schools can remain open.
“Schools are re-opening thanks to the huge efforts of principals, teachers and school staff along with parents and transport providers. 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.
“We are outlining our five key priorities to ensure schools can stay open.
“To keep schools open we need a plan for rapid testing. Government confusion and delay on this issue is not good enough, it is essential to ensure that any cases are dealt with swiftly and decisively, and risk minimised. A lax attitude cannot be accepted.
“We also need to ensure that parents are supported in keeping children at home where they have symptoms. We need to protect their jobs and their incomes, and the expansion of Force Majeure leave is essential.
“Our overcrowded education system is a huge obstacle to safety and social distancing.
“We need to reduce class sizes. It is disappointing that the roadmap contains no such commitment, and indeed the government voted against a Sinn Féin proposal to do so. One in five primary school children are in a class of over 30, and some in classes of 35, and even over 40. We need to begin the process of reducing class sizes immediately, focusing first of all on eliminating the classes of over 30.
“We also need to tackle the shortage of teachers and substitutes, and maximise the number of teachers available. That must be done, by expanding the hours of teachers who do not have enough hours, expanding the numbers of substitute panels, and expediting deployment of second year PME and fourth year student teachers.
“It is absolutely essential that children with special educational needs, who were among the worst affected by the closure of schools, are not left behind. We want to see Special Education Teachers to be totally dedicated to Special Education, and not stretched. We need additional SNAs, and we also believe there is a need for improved resources and guidance on provision of remote learning for those who cannot attend school due to health reasons.
“I will be presenting these priorities to the Minister when I meet her this week. It is essential that she acts upon them.”