24th March 2021
Earlier this morning, the INTO met expert public health advisors and Department of Education officials to discuss the latest developments within our primary and special schools.
FAQs and Principals’ Webinar
The Department has updated its FAQs for principal teachers and these were sent to schools on 22 March. Following INTO representations, resourcing of the helpline for principal teachers will be increased.
Principals may also contact the HSE live telephone number 1850 241850 when the direct line is out of service in the evenings.
The Department has also informed principals that they will host a webinar for principals on Friday, 26 March. This webinar, which will be addressed by Professor Martin Cormican, HSE Clinical Lead on Infection Control and Mary McKenna, Assistant Director of Nursing, Infection Prevention and Control will be recorded and uploaded to the Department of Education’s website. The webinar will focus on important issues including best practice regarding adherence to infection prevention and control measures and on technical guidance relating to dealing with the new variants of COVID-19.
Read the Updated FAQs for School Principals or Designated Contact Person here
Important Clarification for Pregnant Education Staff
The INTO is aware that an FAQ issued from the Department of Education last evening. The INTO did not see a draft of this document before it was published.
In relation to pregnant teachers, this FAQ linked to a HSE document which was published on 9 February. Having taken account of this HSE advice, and subsequent reports of Covid Placentitis, the DE published information note 10/2021 on 8 March, which facilitated remote working for all pregnant teachers, pending additional guidance from the HSE.
This temporary arrangement remains in place pending further clarification from the Department of Education. Teachers who are availing of remote working should be recorded as Very High Risk on the OLCS, and this does not require a referral to Medmark.
INTO has raised concerns with the department, noting that the publication of this HSE document without reference to the subsequent information note or any additional content, is understandably causing confusion for teachers and principals. The INTO understands that a revised circular on COVID-19 Arrangements for Education staff will issue next week.
Weekly Mass Testing Reports
The HPSC has published reports for the weeks ending March 13 and March 20. The latter report is the first public health report completed since primary schools fully reopened on Monday 15 March.
Public health advisors confirmed that in areas of the country where the rate of community infection is higher, there were more incidences of infection in schools. The average percentage infection rate in schools during the pandemic has been 2.8% positivity with slightly higher positivity rates in special schools. The results since schools reopened last month are in line with these averages.
Next Tuesday, 30 March, the government is expected to announce its strategy for dealing with Covid-19 from April 5 onwards.
Public Health Messaging
The INTO expressed concern that public health messaging about gatherings outside of school does not seem to be effective. Public health doctors have assured the INTO that they will continue to amplify the message that members of school communities must adhere to the government restrictions while outside school particularly during the Easter holidays. They have also reiterated their advice that children who are sick, and particularly those with symptoms of COVID-19 should not be sent to school.
School Ventilation and Serial Testing in Education Settings
The Department of Education has confirmed that the work of several expert groups reviewing ventilation and antigen testing for educational settings is advancing and reports are expected in the coming weeks. The review groups are giving detailed consideration to any benefits that may arise from using antigen testing and ventilation monitors as infection control tools in various settings including schools.
The Department of Education will implement any changes recommended in these reports.
This morning the INTO again raised the anomalies within the vaccination programme and called for early clarity on the schedule for vaccinating education staff. Both Department of Education officials and public health staff confirmed that they supported priority access being given to special education staff within the overall cohort of workers within the education sector. They also advised the INTO that government has requested a further review of the prioritisation list and that regular engagement between the Departments of Education and Health is taking place on the matter in the context of vaccine supply lines improving.
Funding for Cleaning, Sanitising and PPE
The Department of Education is finalising rates of the various grants for the Easter to Summer term and these will issue to schools shortly.
The Department of Education has confirmed that the use of an external coach or tutor, including for senior classes, is at the discretion of the board of management, who must be satisfied that these visitors are Garda vetted, adhere to public health advice, are trained by their governing bodies with regard to COVID-19 and that they can fully implement the school’s COVID-19 response plan.
The supplementary programme provides 20 hours of one-to-one in person support for pupils who had returned to school on 1 March and 30 hours for all other pupils.
The guidance supporting the programme outlines that the tuition must be delivered outside of the normal school day (i.e. evenings and weekends), so that the student can continue to engage as fully as possible with the teaching and learning provided by their school.
To maximise the number of pupils participating, the Department has also confirmed that any unused hours can be delivered at any time before 30 April 2021, including during the Easter holidays.
Following representations to the Department by a number of schools, parents, management bodies and by the Ombudsman for Children, the Department can confirm that the running of the supplementary programme in schools is an authorised activity.
It is therefore open to any board of management, if they so wish, to make their school premises available to facilitate the running of the supplementary programme.