7th August 2020
At this morning’s stakeholder forum with the Department of Education, the INTO raised several matters in respect of schools’ reopening and was briefed on a number of developments to support the orderly and safe reopening of our primary schools. Weekly stakeholder engagement will continue throughout August.
INTO wrote to the Minister for Education earlier this week requesting an urgent review of public health advice on face coverings in the primary sector. We welcome today’s announcement from the Department of Education that teachers who are unable to maintain two metres social distancing in their classrooms are advised to wear face masks or visors as appropriate. Schools will have the option of ordering face coverings centrally on the newly established government procurement service.
Public health advice in respect of pupils wearing face coverings remains that this is not recommended. As with all public health advice, this will be kept under review.
Further information is available here.
Procurement of hand sanitisers and other equipment
Further clarity has been provided today on how the government procurement portal will operate and, how schools will be able to request the required equipment for their schools.
INTO understands that schools are advised to order only a few weeks’ supply to begin with, to ensure adequate supply for all schools as the system goes live. Schools who have already bought sanitisation products will be able to use the funds provided to defray these costs.
COVID-19 Capitation Grant for PPE, Consumables and Equipment
The Department of Education has clarified funding levels which schools can use from September to December. A base grant of €25 per mainstream pupil and €100 per pupil in special classes and/or special schools will be provided. The minimum grant for a small primary school to cover the September to Christmas period will be €1500. Overall funding will be reviewed prior to the rollout of the second moiety from January to June 2021.
Further information is available here.
Revised Circular on teachers’ and SNAs’ leave of absence
The Department of Education has issued Circular 0049/2020, “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Arrangements for Teachers and SNAs employed in recognised Primary and Post-Primary Schools”.
This circular sets out COVID-related arrangements in respect of:
- Return to work in schools;
- Special leave for those with a COVID diagnosis or with medical advice to self-isolate;
- Overseas travel;
- “High risk” and “very high risk” school employees; and
- A range of related matters.
On the issue of leave and teacher absences, it should be noted that the measures outlined as part of ‘The Roadmap for the Full Return to School’, published by the department on 27 July, provide for funding to “cover substitutions that are not covered by existing schemes”.
Some eighty base schools have now been identified to support the rollout of the supply panel scheme this year, sixty of which have already begun recruitment. The schools who will be served by the supply panel scheme will be contacted by the department next week. Further refinement of the scheme will be made next week to ensure that large urban settings are well represented. We understand more than two thousand schools will be served by the new supply scheme.
INTO has pushed for the rollout of a national supply panel scheme. We welcome the increased number of base schools and we have secured a commitment from the Department of Education to keep provision of supply under review to identify and resolve any gaps which may arise.
INTO will run a special webinar next week to provide support to school leaders in the various base schools, with information to be shared directly with these schools in the coming days.
The Teaching Council is working on a range of measures to increase the supply of registered teachers including contacting registered teachers who are not currently active in schools.
INTO has called for the provision of a substitute teacher in all cases where a teacher is absent. However, we realise that from time to time a school may struggle to find a substitute teacher for the first day. Where a school chooses to use a special needs teacher to cover a class, we are aware that this will diminish the resource provided to particularly vulnerable pupils at a time of significant upheaval. We have raised our concerns with the Department of Education and today, have received confirmation that where such a situation arises, a school will be able to bank the unused substitute cover and use this to repay the loss of resource to SEN pupils within the school.
In this respect, there is already a well-established process in schools for banking their part-time special education hours. The INTO recognises this is far from ideal and will continue to monitor the situation.
Career break sub cap lifted
Over the last number of weeks, we have identified members currently on career break who may wish to support their local schools through substitution. Under the current rules, they are limited to a cap of ninety day’s substitution work. We welcome the information note published this afternoon which lifts this cap and will enable more members who wish to sub to do so.
We also welcome the clarification that teachers who are job-sharing may work as substitutes in their own schools.
A checklist has issued today to assist schools to reconfigure their classrooms and other spaces to accommodate all pupils in line with social distancing requirements. More information is available here.
INTO recognises the significant volume of information which has been published over the last number of weeks. We will be working to produce an updated and expanded FAQ document covering all questions members will have about the wide range of guidance and supports to support the reopening of our schools. We hope to publish this early next week and will ensure every member receives a copy. This important document will be produced in partnership with the School Managerial Authorities and IPPN.