6th November 2020
The INTO continues to engage with the Department of Education, school management and NPHET to represent the concerns of members and will endeavour to provide updates as they become available.
School Support Teams and dedicated phone line
During the week the Department of Education advised school Boards of Management that the reinforced school support teams which had been established in all HSE areas comprising staff from the Department of Education, including 57 school inspectors, were operational.
Principals were provided with a dedicated contact number for communicating with these support teams. INTO has been informed that these newly established teams are receiving an average of fifty calls a day.
Redefinition of close contacts in educational settings
The Department of Education also advised INTO of the re-definition of close contacts in educational settings which had been sought by the union.
INTO will be closely monitoring the use of this definition in subsequent risk assessments to ensure a consistent application and reminds principals to consult with all affected staff members before risk assessments are completed.
The Department circulated guidance to schools on collaboration with parents and have taken on board key demands from the INTO. In particular, the guidance now establishes that there should be no face to face meetings with parents and that IEP Meetings and Parent-Teacher Meetings could be held remotely or by telephone. Additionally, parents and guardians could receive written progress reports on their children’s learning. Remote meetings can be scheduled for Spring term if schools so wish.
Public Health Report Tuesday 3 November
INTO met Department of Education officials and public health experts this week to consider the latest public health data for primary schools. Teacher unions have received written answers to over fifty questions submitted to the members of NPHET. These and other Covid-19 related issues will be considered by the Central Executive Committee at next week’s meeting.
The Doctors provided a weekly report on testing and tracing in educational settings and will continue to meet education unions and school managerial authorities weekly.
NPHET also confirmed that the INTO would be provided with a copy of their mid-term review of schools when it was complete and we have urged swift publication.
In data shared with this union, a total of 2839 people aged over 18 tested in primary, special and post-primary schools with 110 testing positive.
Results of primary and special schools testing
|No. Facilities||No. Tested||No. Detected||% Detected|
The public health experts stated that there should be no instances of mass congregation of adults in or near school buildings. The team also confirmed that the HPSC was reviewing its recommendations on the wearing of face coverings in primary schools and that the epidemiology of Covid-19 in educational settings was updated daily on the HPSC website.
The HSE refreshed its public awareness campaign this week and published new guidance for parents entitled ‘If your child is a close contact of Covid-19 in school’. Members are urged to share this information with their students’ families.
INTO has again sought medical evidence relating to the continued attendance at schools of teachers who are in the high risk category of health and teachers who are pregnant.
The HSE has updated its advice on the ventilation of non-health centres. INTO has appealed to the Department of Education to provide detailed guidance on the ventilation of schools to Boards of Management as a matter of urgency.
INTO will be engaging with school management and the Department of Education to ensure that schools are provided with the guidance and resources to deal with the balancing act between the need for heated and well-ventilated facilities.
HSPC key school specific recommendations include:
Schools can pose a particular challenge to adequate ventilation, given that many European schools rely on natural ventilation (i.e. windows) (23). This becomes problematic when the temperature differential between the inside and outside air is large, for example during winter time.
In addition to the general recommendations above, the following guidance can be applied in schools:
- Ensure that windows and air vents can be accessed and opened when needed.
- In classrooms that rely on natural ventilation, consider opening the windows 15 minutes before the classroom is occupied to ventilate the room. Similarly, leave windows open for 15 minutes after the classroom is emptied.
- Consider installing an indoor air quality (IAQ) meter in each classroom that relies on natural ventilation. IAQ meters monitor the level of CO2 in an area, alerting the user to when the level rises above a set parameter, indicating that there is poor ventilation. They should be mounted in a visible location, away from fresh air inlets. The Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations (REHVA) recommends setting the lower limit to 800ppm of CO2 (23). When this limit is reached, the necessary steps need to be taken to increase classroom ventilation (e.g. opening a window).
- Provide teachers with instructions on how to manage classroom ventilation:
- Open windows and air vents as much as possible during school time to facilitate ventilation. Opening windows just below the ceiling will reduce the risk of cross-draughts.
- Ensure regular airing with windows during break time by opening windows fully.
- Make sure the ventilation system openings are not blocked by furniture or curtains.
- Observe IAQ CO2 monitor levels during the school day and respond appropriately when the threshold is reached (800ppm CO2 recommended as threshold).
Digital Technology in Schools
The Department of Education has confirmed in Circular 74/20 that an additional €50 million in grant assistance will be provided to primary and post-primary schools during this school year.