Member update – School Response Plans, Staffing, EPV Leave and More

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has secured a number of important clarifications from the Department of Education (DE) and the Teaching Council, which are detailed in this week’s member update. The union expects to issue a final update towards the middle of next week, ahead of the closure of our schools for the summer break, following a meeting with departmental officials.

COVID-19 response plans 

From September 2021, the INTO understands that schools will continue to operate with the current infection prevention and control measures in place. These important measures support the safe operation of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are advised to retain these control measures in place for the forthcoming school term. The INTO will be assessing what safeguards are necessary for schools in September in our engagement with the departmental and public health officials, which will continue throughout the summer months. 

Up-to-date guidance for schools will be made available ahead of reopening, though it is not envisaged there will be additional steps that schools will have to factor in over the summer. School reopening plans are tied to the Government’s Work Safely Protocol, which reflects the latest public health advice to government on workplace settings. 

Communicating with the school community 

The DE will shortly undertake a communications campaign with parents and pupils in advance of the reopening of schools, setting out the arrangements in place in schools and their personal responsibilities. Departmental officials have clarified that this communication will specifically target new pupils entering primary and special schools to ensure they are familiar with the new arrangements.

Staffing arrangements (2021/22 school year) 

Further to Information Note TC 0013/2021, we are awaiting HSE/NPHET advice on the working arrangements for ‘Very High Risk’ teachers/SNAs and pregnant teachers/SNAs who are currently not attending the workplace but are working remotely. 

The INTO has sought further information in respect of these arrangements and set out our concerns. We anticipate further information will be published over the summer. 

EPV leave 

In accordance with Information Note 008/2020, the maximum EPV leave entitlement in the 2021/22 school year of five days, including any carryover, continues to apply. In line with the exceptional arrangement for the 2020/21 school year, the Department of Education/ETB will provide substitute cover for the first day of EPV leave taken by a teacher in the 2021/22 school year. The Department has clarified that 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. The INTO will continue to keep the matter under review. 

Repatriation of primary teachers 

The INTO has been advised that primary teachers who qualified abroad can complete induction in Ireland. The Teaching Council has decided that on an exceptional time bound basis, teachers who have qualified abroad can complete their induction here in Ireland.

Teachers must apply no later than 29 October 2021 to be eligible. It is anticipated that the measure could attract an additional 350 teachers to fill both short-term and long-term vacancies in schools in the next academic year.

This measure is particularly relevant to Irish citizens who have studied and qualified abroad and who may wish to return to the Irish education sector as we deal with our current challenges. Please click here for further information on how to apply for registration under this regulation.

This announcement forms part of ongoing measures being coordinated by the Department of Education in consultation with all stakeholders in education.

The measures being implemented by the Teaching Council are focused on increasing the supply of registered teachers who are available to fill vacancies, including supervision and substitution roles, on an ongoing basis throughout the forthcoming 2021/22 school year.

Teacher supply 

Since Easter, the INTO has been working closely with the Teaching Council to improve the availability of registered teachers. The Council has directly communicated with the entire register of teachers, worked with the higher education institutions (HEIs) to accelerate the availability of Professional Master of Education (PME) student teachers (who are eligible to register under further education), and encouraged teachers whose registration is approaching expiry to remain registered and to make themselves available as substitutes.

The Teaching Council has indicated that school principals can avail of cross-sectoral substitution where, for example, any registered teacher can substitute in both primary and post-primary once vetted through the Council.

The Council operates a fast-track summer registration process each year to ensure that newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are registered in advance of the new school year. It is anticipated that over the summer approximately 3,400 newly qualified teachers will be added to the register.

In the first five months of 2021, over 1,500 new registrations were completed across all four routes of registration with 500 of these occurring between the start of April and mid-May.

More than 2,500 vetting applications were processed to date this year as part of new applications for registrations.

Teachers who are graduating this summer are asked to follow the instructions, including completing their vetting, in the email that they receive from the Teaching Council when their results have transferred over from the higher education institutions.

The Teaching Council has also engaged with higher education institutions to explore how the availability of registered teachers on school placement to schools for supervision and substitution can be maximised.

Principals’ release day clusters and supply panels

At a recent meeting between the INTO and the Teaching Council, the two organisations resolved to promote the establishment of Principals’ Release Day clusters for groups of five schools nationwide. This is to ensure that teaching principals and their classes have continuity and consistency of teaching and learning during the next school year. The meeting also focussed on the success of the supply panel scheme, which operated this year. 

Weekly mass testing reports 

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has continued to publish weekly reports. Last week, 140 primary schools and five special schools had confirmed cases. COVID-19 was detected among 29 students following mass testing. Click here to access the latest weekly test reports.