INTO welcomes plans for schools reopening, supports for principals and substitute panels. Further clarity on substitute cover needed.

Teachers and school leaders have had to wait for some time for this essential guidance to inform and support local efforts to reopen their schools. Following detailed discussions between the INTO and the Department of Education, we welcome today’s publication which will provide some much-needed clarity and assistance for our members. Further questions which remain will be explored by INTO with the department in the next few weeks as we prepare for school reopening.

The Roadmap for the Full Return to School and The COVID-19 Response Plan for the Safe and Sustainable Reopening of Primary and Special Schools are available here.

 Substitute cover 

Throughout our engagement with management bodies, department officials and the newly appointed Minister for Education we have stressed the need to provide adequate substitute cover to ensure the successful reopening of our schools. The public health advice is clear – a teacher presenting with symptoms should not go to school. That therefore creates a need for a robust substitute supply panel. We welcome today’s commitment to establish nearly 60 supply panels across the country, with at least one panel in each county. We recognise that there will be areas that are not covered by the a supply panel and these schools will need further guidance on substitute arrangements. In addition, we sought agreement on the provision of substitute cover for certain other absences, we still await clarity on these.

School funding 

A comprehensive financial package for schools to support cleaning and the delivery of public health materials and resources will help schools to secure the services needed to make reopening a success. We welcome the doubling of the Minor Works grant, the funding for enhanced cleaning and the news that schools can procure safety equipment and sanitising liquids in the weeks ahead.

Classroom illustrations 

Our members have asked for illustrated classroom templates to inform how they layout their classrooms in line with the prevailing public health advice. This additional information will be of use to teachers and schools as they make plans for the return to school. While the illustrations are welcome, they also highlight that in a COVID context where we have been working to safely reopen with the largest primary school classes in the European Union, class sizes must urgently be addressed by this government.

Leadership and management days

The INTO has repeatedly sought a commitment from government of a minimum of one leadership and management day per week for our teaching principals. The balancing act for a teaching principal is tough in normal times, it will be tougher still this year in particular. We are very pleased to see  the delivery of these essential release days for teaching principals and the provision of release days for deputy principals in schools with an administrative principal. We also welcome the provision of aides who will assist boards of management with preparations for the safe and orderly reopening of schools.

Stakeholder engagement with the Department of Education will continue every week until schools reopen safely at the end of August. The INTO will seek an autumn review to examine if the measures announced today will be sufficient to support our primary and special schools throughout the winter period and will demand further refinement and resourcing prior to Budget 2021 if necessary. .

Commenting on today’s announcement, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said:

“Over the last six weeks we have worked intensively to inform the development of guidance to support our members in reopening their schools. We have pushed to ensure adequate substitution, sufficient funding and practical guidance be made available to schoolsWe welcome today’s announcement and government’s commitment to continue stakeholder engagement in the period ahead. The beginning of the academic year will be the most challenging ever experienced by everyone in school communities. It is imperative that the return to primary and special schools is an orderly one and that teaching and learning in a safe, healthy and supportive school environment remains the top priority for all in primary and special schools until the virus is fully suppressed in Ireland.