Member update – Preparation for 2021/22 school year continues

Planning for the next school year continues with regular meetings between education partners expected to take place during July. The following INTO member update details recent developments.

Review of the 2020-21 school year

The Department of Education and public health advisors are reviewing the last school year, during which there were 1,893 COVID-19 outbreaks in primary and special schools with 1,934 individuals testing positive after mass-testing was carried out.

The department’s review will consider the implications of COVID-19 variants of concern for the coming school year. Copies of the mass testing reports for the 2020-21 school year are available to view via the HSE.

School supports for autumn term

The risk-mitigation measures that were in place in education settings will continue to be utilised from September. Funding is in place for sanitising/cleaning and air-quality monitors will be delivered to schools next month.

A revised template for schools’ COVID-19 response plans will issue to schools in the coming period. The INTO does not anticipate any substantial changes to existing response plans.

Substitution arrangements 2021-22 school year

Among the arrangements for substitution are: supply panels; the setting aside of restrictions on substitute work for job-sharing teachers and those on career break; substitution for approved absences including the first EPV day; and the provision of one leadership and management day per week for teaching principals.

A considerable amount of new release-day clusters will be established and some new supply panels will also be in place. The information notes detailed below were issued last month and further information notes will be issued in the coming weeks.

  • Information Note TC 0015/2021 titled Temporary changes to the Career Break Scheme for Registered Teachers employed in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools – 2021/22 School Year . This removes the restrictions on the number of substitute teaching days that may be worked by a teacher while on career break.
  • Information Note TC 0016/2021 titled Temporary Changes to the Job Sharing Scheme for Registered Teachers employed in Recognised Primary and Post Primary Schools – 2021/22 School Year. This provides for a job-sharing teacher to be employed in a substitute capacity in his/her/their own school only during the period he/she/they are rostered off duty.
  • Information Note TC 0018/2021 titled Coronavirus (COVID-19): Temporary Substitution Arrangements and Extra Personal Vacation (EPV) Leave for Registered Teachers employed in recognised Primary Schools – 2021/22 School Year. This sets out the arrangements for additional substitute cover for a range of absences and for EPV days.

Time frames for recruitment and appointment procedures reduced

Following continued engagement by the INTO, the Department of Education has recently published Information Note TC 0021/21. To facilitate the timely recruitment of teaching staff and the appointment of principals and deputy principals (open competition), the time frames for advertising and interviewing as outlined in the department Circular 0044/2019 are reduced until further notification.

The Information Note also withdraws Information Note 0002/2020, which had detailed a number of amendments to the procedures for the filling of internal leadership and management positions. The implementation of this Information Note by a board of management/ETB will constitute compliance with the agreed procedures as set out in Circular 0044/2019.

Staff inoculation

While many members have been vaccinated, we expect all teachers to receive vaccines prior to the beginning of the new school year. This is a result of the twin-track approach announced by government last week following interventions by workers’ representatives including the INTO.

Since Monday, 5 July, members aged under 35 have been able to register for Janssen vaccines at local pharmacies. If a person in this age group wishes to be immunised with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) instead, they can indicate their preference during the registration process. The Minister for Health yesterday confirmed that registration for the 30-34 age group for an mRNA vaccine begins from today (Wednesday, 7 July) via the HSE portal. The portal is now open to 34-year-olds and is opening to people aged 30-33 over the next four days. It is anticipated that first vaccinations for these age groups will be administered within the following three-week period. Registration for 25-29-year-olds is likely to follow shortly afterwards.

Under the twin-track approach of the HSE, an alternative vaccination option will be available for 18–34 year olds from next week. This age group will be able to register to receive the Janssen or AstraZeneca vaccines through the HSE portal, with most doses subsequently delivered at one of the mass vaccination centres across the country. People who register in this way will also be called in reverse age order.

The second dose of AstraZeneca is now being administered to older members at a four-week interval from the first. The HSE is currently vaccinating people aged 35 years and over. It is expected that this age cohort will receive their first vaccinations in the next fortnight.

Additional issues

The Covid-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report for very high-risk teachers automatically expired on 30 June 2021.  Teachers who consider themselves to be very high risk of serious illness from contracting COVID-19 are reminded that they must complete the online COVID-19 Risk Assessment Questionnaire and submit it to the OHS. In order to be provided with a COVID-19 Health Risk Categorisation Report in advance of the 2021/22 school year, the questionnaire must be submitted to the OHS no later than 16 July, 2021.

Further updated advice in relation to pregnant teachers is awaited from the department. The INTO is continuing to engage with the department and pressing for this advice to be issued.

During the summer, government will conduct a pilot scheme on antigen testing for staff in early childhood education settings. It is intended that a similar pilot scheme will take place in primary and special schools during the autumn term.

Discussions have also begun on an autumn supplementary programme for children with special educational needs.

The Department of Education has clarified that the substitution arrangements in Chapter 5 of Circular 0021/2021 will apply for the summer programme.

We will continue to issue updates on our website in the coming weeks.