28th May 2021
A member update on recent, notable developments is detailed below.
Air ventilation monitors
The Department of Education has issued updated guidance on the ventilation of school facilities. Heeding a call from the INTO, and advice from the expert group established to evaluate this recommendation, the department has now agreed to provide air ventilation monitors to classrooms with lower levels of ventilation. The monitors will be utilised alongside further guidance on the degree of window ventilation required in certain rooms.
Monitors will be provided to primary schools and special schools as needed. It is not necessary to apply for monitors. The units will be portable and capable of being powered via power socket or a USB cable connected to a PC. The units will be provided to schools in advance of the September term. Further information and FAQs are available here.
Find updated guidance on ventilation from the Department of Education here.
The Department of Education has advised schools that the process for the identification and management of close contacts has returned to normal. Temporary measures were introduced to deal with the immediate aftermath of the cyber-attack on the HSE. Following confirmation of a positive case of COVID-19 in a school, close contacts will be identified following the Public Health Risk Assessment (PHRA). Appointments will then be generated for close contacts and sent to parents and staff members directly. It is important that results can be linked to school facilities and this can only be done if they are managed through the appointments testing process. This enables early identification of potential clusters by public health, leading to better containment outcomes.
Weekly mass testing report
The latest Weekly Schools Mass Testing Report for Week 19 (covering 9 – 15 May, 2021) has been published. Data for 14 and 15 May is incomplete due to the HSE ICT cyber-attack. During this period, 330 primary schools were subject to mass testing, with a positivity rate of 2.5%. Mass testing took place in 12 special education schools with a positivity rate of 3.3%. A copy of the report is available here.
Communicating with HSE
While public health officials respond to urgent school needs, members will find answers to common queries in their FAQ document (see correspondence issued to schools). The Department of Education is also available to assist with many queries and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (057) 932 4461. If staff in schools become aware of a case of COVID-19 within their facility, but have not yet heard from public health officials, their principal should immediately contact the HSE Principals line (number emailed to schools) and they will assist the school in making contact with public health.
Members are advised that several reports have come to light involving hoax calls to schools seeking public health information. Public health officials will always be able to share their formal credentials with school staff when requested. Please note that public health officials or staff from the Department of Education will never seek banking information from a school via a phone call.
Where external photographers attend schools to take school photographs, they are required to comply with the school ‘COVID-19 Response Plan’ and ensure that they adhere to all public health requirements. Schools should ensure pods and class bubbles or year groups do not mix in these circumstances.
Schools are encouraged to minimise the use of buses for school tours this year, to keep tours local and avoid long trips. Where buses are involved in a school trip, schools are advised to avoid whole year groups going on the same trip. Decisions in relation to educational trips are a matter for each individual school authority and it is the responsibility of each school authority to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place while children are participating in such trips. At all times, public health guidelines should be complied with.
Siblings of close contacts
In response to queries from the INTO, the Department of Education and Public Health have re-emphasised that there is no national recommendation that siblings of close contacts should be excluded from schools (i.e. siblings or family members). Occasionally, depending on the information available and the Public Health Risk Assessment (PHRA), public health might ask siblings to be excluded, but these decisions will be made following consideration of the PHRA and are not routinely required.
Symptomatic pupils must not attend school
Public health officials have cited ongoing incidents where symptomatic pupils are being sent to school. Schools are encouraged to remind parents of their responsibility to keep a child home where they present with COVID-19symptoms and to seek medical advice from their GP.
The Department of Education has recently announced the provision of expanded summer education programmes for students with complex special educational needs and those at greatest risk of educational disadvantage — as a COVID-19 pandemic response measure — for summer 2021. Under the expanded scheme, students with complex special educational needs and those who are at the greatest risk of educational disadvantage will have access to an enhanced summer programme of education.
The programme aims to support pupils to: re-engage with education, build their confidence, increase their motivation, promote wellbeing and, for some who are at key transition stages, help to ensure they can move on to their planned educational placement next September along with their peers.
Despite welcome news of the additional investment in this important scheme, the department delayed the issuing of guidance to schools. This delay created uncertainty for members and parents. Compared to last year, the INTO understands that up to 7,500 additional teachers will be needed to deliver the programmes over the summer. Final year students may apply for registration with the Teaching Council when they have received their examination results and vetting certificates.
Where the school-based programme is not available for pupils with complex needs, the home-based programme will continue to be available.
Summer provision and EPV days
This summer there will be three different summer programmes in operation. EPV days have traditionally been available to teachers who participated in July Provision (Special Educational Needs) – one EPV day for each week worked in school provision. EPV days were never previously available for July provision delivered in the home. The INTO understands that EPV days will be available for school-based July provision this year, as in previous years.
Teachers teaching on the DEIS summer camps (Literacy, Numeracy, Gaeilge) have not previously been eligible for EPV days in the past. The INTO understands that this will be the case again this year.
EPV days will not be available to teachers who teach on the new school-based summer programmes. This new summer programme is available to schools in July/ August 2021. The closing date for school applications is 10 June.
The Department of Education’s Information Note 0008/2021 addressed the question of EPV days for the current school year and the 2021/22 school year, confirming that the Department and/or ETB will provide substitute cover for the first day of EPV leave taken by a teacher in the school year. Subsequent EPV Leave may be taken only where the effect on the school’s operation, including its ‘COVID-19 Response Plan’, is minimal and where this can be enabled without disruption to the teaching of the class, and without the division of the class group between other classes.
For the avoidance of doubt, substitute cover will not be provided by the Department/ETB beyond the first day of EPV Leave taken by the teacher in the 2020/21 school year.
Carrying over EPV leave
Where, due to the provisions above, it is not possible for a teacher to take their total EPV Leave during the 2020/21 school year, accumulated untaken EPV Leave will be carried over to be taken in the 2021/22 school year.
This carryover will be subject to an individual teacher having a maximum EPV Leave entitlement in the 2021/22 school year of five days.
The requirements for the approval of EPV days by the managerial authority does not change.
Covid-19 Capitation Funding Supports
Following a review of the funding provided to schools for the first two terms of the school year the Department has finally clarified the funding levels for term three. The department has adjusted the rates of funding to reflect the period of school closures in early 2021. Boards of management are expected to receive the enhanced cleaning and PPE grants within the next fortnight.
Find the departmental notice on Covid-19 capitation funding supports here: