Member update – reopening, mass testing, school placement and more

Following the government’s announcement last Monday that primary schools will fully reopen next Monday, 15 March, the INTO has continued to highlight members’ concerns, engaging with the Department of Education and all other primary and special education stakeholders in an effort to further improve confidence in working conditions and health-and-safety supports.

Primary and post-primary education unions and representatives of managerial authorities also met with expert Irish public health advisors earlier this week.

Arising from these meetings we can now clarify:

  • That primary and special schools cannot impose a mandatory face-mask policy for pupils under 13 years of age but where a family wishes that their child should wear a mask at school, pupils are to be permitted to do so.
  • Principal teachers may use the helpline provided by the Department of Education to seek advice not only on public health issues but also on issues relating to staffing resulting from Covid-19. The Special Education section of the Department is also available to assist principals of special schools and those who have special classes at their schools.
  • Following INTO calls, the Department of Education has pledged to act on the recommendations of the expert groups chaired by Professor Mark Ferguson (Science Foundation Ireland) examining ventilation in schools and the use of antigen/serial testing.

Weekly Mass Testing Reports

The HPSC has published the following weekly mass testing reports on education settings:

Public health risk assessments 

Dr. Kevin Kelleher and Dr. Abigail Collins have confirmed that the number of positive cases following public health risk assessments (PHRA) in primary and special schools had been low up until 10am, Monday, 8 March. Between 11 February and 8 March the majority of facilities where PHRAs took place had only a single case.

They strongly advised staff members and pupils who have symptoms of Covid-19 to stay away from schools and emphasised the need for minimal congregation at or near school grounds.

Public health experts confirmed that in the event that a family member contracts Covid-19 and the family subsequently does not present their school-going children for testing, they will consider such children to be positive and will accordingly conduct PHRAs with schools.

Public health experts have also stated that the approach being taken to PHRAs and contact tracing in schools since they reopened is precautionary, with a view to assessing and closely monitoring any impact of new variants in schools.

Wider reopening of primary 

The Department of Education confirmed that the Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn advised last weekend that the next phase of reopening of primary and post-primary schools could proceed as the trajectory of all of the indicators at a national level supported this. They noted  that there was a downward trend in daily case numbers, the 14-day incidence rate of infection had decreased by two thirds since February 1st.

Vaccination programme 

Following INTO calls, we have been informed that the Department of Education has continued to engage with public health authorities and also with the Departments of An Taoiseach and Health on the vaccination programme. The Department of Education has requested priority vaccination for education staff including those who work in special education.

The INTO has also highlighted reports of anomalies in the vaccination programme and we continue to demand clarity on the timeframe for rollout to education staff.

Departmental guidance 

The Department of Education has published separate guidance on the return to primary school for junior and senior classes.

For further information visit the INTO Covid-19 support hub.

School placement 

School placement is essential for Initial Teacher Education and for schools, as it helps to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers to meet the identified needs of the system.

All schools are strongly encouraged to continue to host student teachers on school placement during the remainder of the 2020/2021 school year. The initial guidance note on school placement for the 2020/21 school year published by the Teaching Council in August 2020 and an additional updated guidance note as published in December 2020 are both available via