20th November 2020
Over the course of the last week, on your behalf, INTO has again met with the Department of Education and NPHET. INTO also provided evidence to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and undertook an extensive media engagement campaign to ensure the issues that matter most to our members were widely publicised.
HSE school support teams
Whilst we have welcomed the establishment of these dedicated school teams, staffed with school inspectors, we urge more resources to be provided to enable them to do their vital work. We remain concerned that the level of service provided to schools over the weekend is not high enough and needs to be augmented.
Public health webinar for principals
INTO has submitted a number of questions to HSE Public Health in advance of their forthcoming webinar for principal teachers. The Department of Education will invite principals to the webinar, which is expected to be held next week. We felt it was important that the issues of most concern to our school leaders were shared in advance to ensure they would be covered in the session. INTO will communicate information on the webinar when it becomes available.
Minor works grant
We welcomed the early payment of next year’s minor works grant and sought direct funding for schools, who do not have air monitoring systems.
Public awareness campaign
As part of a robust public awareness campaign, on foot of our representations, the Department of Education has agreed to issue public health advice to parents explaining why normal school events held in the lead up to Christmas cannot be held this year and reminding anyone who intends to travel abroad that they must restrict their movements on return.
The union welcomed the additional curriculum guidance sent to schools on Monday and sought further guidance on the teaching of singing and the use of wind instruments. We expect that revised guidance on the ventilation of schools and on Child Protection Oversight Reporting will issue shortly.
Decreasing the volume of communication to schools
INTO has requested that the department review the volume of material being sent to schools and that the communications from now on be re-focused on measures to sustain schools for the remainder of the year. While schools do need guidance and advice, there is no reason this cannot be simplified and provided in a more practical, user-friendly way.
INTO members noted the short supply of fully qualified substitute teachers in some regions of the country. Feedback from the 115 supply panels has been largely positive to date. The department is keeping the scheme under review and our position remains that every school in Ireland should have access to a supply panel and that an early announcement of the end of pay inequality would entice many emigrant teachers home to address the retention and supply crisis.
Department of Education officials agreed that guidance on school placement in the spring term would be necessary. INTO recommends that schools facilitate student teacher school placements. The INTO is recommending that the model of assessment of students during placement this term, through the assessment of portfolios, debriefing sessions and conversations with students should continue for the remainder of this school year. Such an approach would minimise the number of external visitors in schools. INTO has written to the Higher Education Institutions, school management and the Teaching Council to set this out.
Public health data
The weekly public health data provided (week 46) shows that 64 primary and 5 special schools underwent testing with 23 pupils and two staff members testing positive, from the 1143 people tested. That is a positivity rate of 2.2% of those tested.
In addition, following calls from the INTO for such a report, the government have finally published a midterm public health report on schools. A copy of the report is available here.
Oireachtas Education Committee
The General Secretary of the INTO represented the union before the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science this week. A copy of Mr Boyle’s opening statement is available here and members can read a transcript of the session here.