Union opposes absolutist approach to keeping schools open at all costs

The INTO Central Executive Committee held a special meeting yesterday to discuss the challenges faced by primary and special schools during the first fortnight of the school year.
The committee paid tribute to the 40,000 members who returned to the frontline, ensuring a successful first fortnight of teaching and learning.

Inspection model

The INTO is seeking an urgent meeting with the inspectorate on the proposed inspection model for schools.

Our school leaders, teachers and other staff have undertaken incredibly hard work over the summer to reopen our schools, with limited and often delayed guidance from the Department of Education. As we focus on keeping our schools open, this proposal is neither helpful nor necessary and efforts would be better focused on tackling the challenges which remain in our schools.

Testing, Tracing and Supports from HSE

The CEC expressed their dismay that the INTO’s repeated calls for a sector-specific testing and tracing service, and for a dedicated HSE helpline to support principal teachers who are dealing with suspected or confirmed cases, have not been heeded by government.

While the INTO appreciates the public affirmation of our members’ work from the CEO of the HSE, more action is needed. We once again call for government to adequately resource the HSE so that concerned teachers, who have now been deemed to be essential front line staff, can be assured that they will not be left waiting for advice, tests or contact tracing as they endeavour to continue working in a safe school environment.

Urgent review needed

The INTO Executive Committee also restated the union’s call for a full review of the effectiveness of arrangements made for the sector, including:

  • The adequacy of the resource package for sanitising and PPE
  • The capacity of the enhanced capitation for cleaning of schools
  • The capability for schools to adhere to social distancing and impediments to the safety of school communities including the prevalence of supersized classes of 30 children and more
  • The response times of the HSE to testing and tracing
  • The availability of substitute teachers
  • The demands being made of teachers to do extra substitution on a voluntary basis
  • Gaps in supports for principal teachers
  • The chronic lack of appropriate infrastructure to support remote learning.

INTO General Secretary John Boyle demanded that government change tack and refocus on the challenge of keeping our schools safe.

The union condemns the lack of consultation with teachers’ representatives prior to the publication of the education aspects of Government’s five-point plan for living with Covid-19.

While INTO members would prefer to engage directly with pupils in their classroom, the union will not countenance an absolutist approach towards keeping schools open. Where public health advice indicates our schools must close, there must be no political second guessing.

While we hope the plan proposed by government is successful in reducing the incidence of the virus, no option should be taken off the table should the need arise.

INTO will be seeking a firm commitment from the Department of Education to rethink how schools will be configured at various stages of the 5-level plan published this week.

No teacher, parent or pupil wants to return to the dark days when all of our schools were closed. Any class that has to self-isolate must be provided with the resources to continue engaging remotely with their teachers to ensure the continuity of learning.

On the need for a robust review, INTO President Mary Magner, said:

Rather than visiting schools to check compliance with Covid-19 plans, representatives of the Department of Education should be deployed between now and budget day to complete a national audit of the adequacy of provision for primary and special schools during the pandemic. This should include particular scrutiny of our supersized classes and other issues which hindered the ability for our schools to reopen and may yet prevent them from keeping their doors open.