23rd April 2021
Welcome to the latest INTO member update, which seeks to ensure members are kept informed of latest developments across a wide range of issues.
Education partners met Department of Education officials and Dr Kevin Kelleher (NPHET) again this morning. A wide range of issues were discussed. The Department of Education officials agreed that amplified public health messaging and updated guidance should issue to schools next week. Department of Education officials will engage with partners in the coming days with a view to preparing guidance on school activities for May and June.
The Department confirmed that the augmented school support teams in all HSE areas will continue their work in the coming months.
Government is keeping the arrangements for staff members who are pregnant and those in the very high-risk category of health under review in the context of the national vaccination programme. These education staff members will continue to work remotely until further notice.
The Department of Education also expects to receive updated recommendations on the ventilation of schools from the Expert Group on the Role of Ventilation in Reducing Transmission of COVID-19. On foot of these recommendations the Department will issue revised guidance to schools next month.
The Department of Education is also preparing to issue COVID-19 grant assistance for term three.
Dr Kelleher confirmed to the INTO this morning, that following the request of the education unions, he had investigated anomalies that had arisen with the vaccination programme whereby some special education staff had been vaccinated. Dr Kelleher advised that government had not asked NIAC to re-consider their recommendations regarding the aged-based approach to the roll out of vaccines. Education unions made it clear to departmental officials that we are vigorously pursuing a meeting with government representatives on this issue.
Weekly Mass Testing Report
During the first week of summer term public health risk assessments were carried out in 31 primary schools and one special school. From the 662 individuals tested for COVID-19 last week two staff members in primary schools and one staff member in a special school tested positive. 11 pupils also tested positive. The report for the current week will issue on the HPSC website next Wednesday, April 28.
For the latest report (Week 15 April 11-17) and recent weekly testing reports, click here.
Job Share/ Substitution
The INTO has engaged with the Department of Education, the Teaching Council and fellow primary and special education stakeholders regarding the shortage of substitute teachers which is impacting on many schools.
During the Easter holidays a significant number of persons registered with the Teaching Council became available to our sector and registered with the Subseeker portal.
Following intervention by this union, the Department of Education has now clarified that, as an exceptional measure until June 30, 2021, teachers who are job-sharing may work in any school as substitute teachers on days that they are not contracted to their own base schools.
This amends the terms of Information Note 005/2020, which states that a job-sharing teacher is limited to carrying out substitute work in their own school, to minimise movement between schools during the current pandemic. This restriction has now been waived.
Members are advised that page 15 of the OLCS Quick Reference Guide provides schools with information on how to add a job-sharing teacher to their substitutes list and input the claim on the OLCS.
It remains the strong view of the INTO that by vaccinating education staff government would very significantly alleviate the serious situation with substitute supply.
The INTO has also engaged with the Department of Education regarding the operation of the supply panels for the remainder of the current school year and with respect to the expansion of the scheme for the 2021/22 school year. Clarification in relation to the operation of the supply panels for the 2021/22 school year will issue in the coming weeks.
The Teacher Supply Panel should not be used in situations where schools require a substitute in lieu of use of a special education teacher, where a substitute was not available on the day of an absence. These days should be covered through the normal substitution arrangements on OLCS.
Principals’ Release Day Clusters
Following the very successful establishment of 215 local clusters serving 1075 schools with teaching principals last September, the INTO is very keen to see clusters established in the remaining 700 + schools where principal teachers will be provided with one leadership and management day per week next year again. Members of the CEC are happy to clarify issues regarding this initiative for principals who wish to establish clusters with four neighbouring schools. The scheme provides certainty and consistency for everyone in the school community while retaining a great level of flexibility in the approach to their leadership and management work for school leaders.
Update on Inspectorate advisory support
The Inspectorate’s curriculum advice service (CAS) which was established earlier this year to provide support for schools working in the remote environment will finish up this week (Friday, 23 April). This facility is to be re-purposed as the helpline for Leaving Certificate Accredited Grades starting from Monday, 26 April.
Conscious of the challenges and context faced by school principals, teachers, pupils and school communities in recent months, the Inspectorate adjusted the normal arrangements for inspection and advisory work for the current academic year (see Circular 0040/2020). One of the mechanisms through which schools could contact the Inspectorate was through a dedicated phone advisory service regarding curriculum implementation in the remote learning context which has been in operation since Tuesday, 19 January. This helpline served to enable school principals and teachers to contact the Inspectorate directly (via phone or email) with queries about teaching, learning, assessment, and curriculum implementation, especially in a remote teaching context.
Given the evolving nature of the COVID-19 situation, the Inspectorate are continually reviewing their arrangements for engagement with primary and post-primary schools, tailoring specific activities in line with public health advice and prevailing health circumstances. As such, the curriculum advisory service will cease on Friday, 23 April allowing support to be diverted to dealing with queries in relation to accredited grades in advance of this year’s State examinations.
Should primary schools and special schools require advice in relation to teaching and learning during the remainder of term three, it is advised that they contact their assigned inspector (via the regular channels) who will also continue to contact schools directly offering advice and collecting information about the experiences of schools.