Member update – public awareness campaign, banked hours, facemasks and more

Over the last month the INTO has advocated on behalf of members, repeatedly engaging with the Minister for Education, the Chief Clinical Officer and officials from the Department of Education and public health. The INTO has continued to engage with Department of Education officials in advance of next week’s meeting with public health advisors. Since our last member update there have been a number of developments which are outlined below.

Public awareness campaign 

Following sustained lobbying by the INTO, the Department of Education finally launched a multi-lingual communications campaign, focusing on the importance of upholding high standards of safety in schools and at home.

The campaign includes digital content shared online and a radio advert broadcasting on national and local stations since Wednesday, 5 January.

Re-instatement of banked hours 

Following interventions regarding provision for pupils with additional needs, the Department of Education issued the following update to schools last Monday:

While the Department has provided supports to schools to allow them to support their operation during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department also recognises that given the current high case numbers that schools will continue to require additional substitute cover in the period leading up to the mid-term break (to 23rd February 2022) to assist in dealing with absences during this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. A range of measures to increase the availability of substitutes for schools have been put in place including flexibilities around student teacher availability.

Schools have been asked to make every effort to obtain a substitute for all teacher absences. Schools have been advised that the sequence for covering all teacher absences is as follows:  

  • Supply panel if the school is part of a supply panel cluster arrangement
  • School’s own panel of regular substitutes
  • National substitute service/Subseeker
  • Use of Student teachers – details of the additional flexible arrangements for students on placement to provide substitute cover was outlined
  • Other local arrangements such as the administrative principal/ administrative deputy principal if applicable, or other non-classroom teachers

It is clear that non-classroom teachers, such as special education teachers and English language teaching supports should only be used as a measure of last resort where it was not possible to secure a substitute teacher through any of the other measures outlined above. This measure was to minimise in particular the disruption to learning for children with additional needs in mainstream classes who accessed additional teaching in their schools. It does not impact on children with additional needs in special classes (such as classes for children with autism) as it relates to non-classroom special education teachers. 

Given the current level of employee absences across sectors, including the education sector, the Department understands that some schools have on occasion had to use their non-mainstream, non-classroom teachers to maintain in-person education this week.  The Department is also conscious that there are numbers of children absent from school at present, either isolating as a result of Covid-19 or as a close contact. In these circumstances the Department is conscious that these children may also have missed an opportunity to get additional support from their SET and is now permitting the banking of SET hours from January until the February mid-term break, in line with all of the additional measures to support schools during this phase of the pandemic.

Schools are reminded to abide by the terms of the recent Information Note on sequencing of substitution so that use of SET is minimised but, where it cannot be avoided, schools will be permitted to bank the hours to ensure that children with additional needs continue to be supported.”

Higher grade facemasks

The INTO strongly encourages all members to wear FFP2 facemasks at work during the current wave of infection. The INTO secured agreement that these masks can be purchased by schools from current Covid-19 funding and we wish to advise our principal teachers that we will seek a higher Covid-19 capitation grant for term 3 to compensate schools for the additional outlay on FFP2 facemasks during term 2. Furthermore, we ask that boards of management make FFP2 masks available to members.

On Tuesday 11 January, following the Department of Education’s clarification given to the INTO a week previously, the Department sent the following advice to school principals.

As advised to schools previously, you may utilise your Covid-19 capitation funding to provide among other things for PPE for the staff cohort in the school.

On the use of face masks, the NPHET has reviewed its advice on face coverings in the context of the Omicron variant. This has been outlined in NPHET’s latest letter to the Minister for Health. It has been advised by the CMO that all face coverings, including cloth face coverings, offer significant protection against Covid-19. The CMO further advises that anyone who wishes to wear a medical grade face mask or respirator mask instead of a cloth mask should do so.

Where staff may prefer the use of medical grade face masks, i.e. disposable 3 ply masks with CE mark (e.g. EU Standard EN14683), or the use of respirator masks (e.g. FFP2 masks), both types of masks are available through the procurement framework that is in place for schools.  For ease of reference, these suppliers and relevant product codes are restated below.”

Supplier Item Description Supplier Product Code 

Medical Masks EU Standard EN 14683



Surgical Mask Type IIR HM020
JBS Group 3 Ply Surgical Face Masks with ear loops BFE<98% Type IIR PDM156HD Air freight option PDM156HD
Lennox Surgical Facemask Type IIR  (Pk50) AM36101-30
Lennox Respiratory Protection Mask FFP2 & Type II R (Indv) (Pk50) AM52010S-WH
Nugent Safety 3 Ply Disposable Face Masks RES-KIT-CM1740CT
Reach Group Box 3 ply Disposable masks x 50 1000030709
Reach Group Box 3 Ply Disposable Medical Face Masks x 50 1000030627
Shaw Scientific Protego Type IIR Face mask EN14683 SAR500055
Shaw Scientific McKinnon Medical Face Mask 3 Ply Type IIR With Ear Loop MKM50TR
Steripack Adult face Mask Type 2R FG-1003
Steripack Child face Mask Type 2R FG-1005

Experts Ltd

3 Ply Face Mask 2582


Bunzl FFP2 Non Reusable Respirator Face Mask – Unvalved 025084


FFP2 HM022


FFP2 Mask Conical HM031


FFP2 Respirator HM034


FFP2 Respirator Comfort NR HM033
Lennox Respiratory Protection Mask FFP2  (Pk50) AM52015S
Lennox Respiratory Protection Mask FFP2 & Type II R (Indv) (Pk50) AM52010S-WH
JBS Group FFP2 Cup Shape Disposal Mask PDM70HD
JBS Group FFP2 Cup Shape Disposal Mask PDM56HDAP
Reach Group KN95 MASKS FFP2 X50 1000030666

Experts Ltd

FFP2 EN149 Fold Flat Mask 3695


FFP3 NR Mask Folding, Valve HM024


FFP3 NR Mask Conical, Non Valve HM029
Lennox Respiratory Protection Mask FFP3 (Pk50) AM53010-WH

Changes to close contact rules 

Over the course of the last school term, the union has highlighted the impact on the sector following the removal of public health risk assessments, contact tracing and batch testing from primary schools.

This week, government acting on public health advice have changed the isolation periods for close contacts, a move that is not without risk as set out recently by the ECDC. Given the current high levels of transmission of the virus in our communities, these changes must be kept under constant review.

Bearing in mind that education staff who are close contacts and have received booster vaccines are expected to attend their schools, it behoves government to ensure that the recommended FFP2/N95 facemasks are freely and readily available to teachers and that antigen tests are supplied when needed.

We have exhorted the Department of Education to make it clear to schools that the wearing of these higher grade face masks is imperative and that they will fund Boards of Management to enable them to meet their responsibilities as employers. We have also demanded that the department issue a detailed clarification of the changes which came in to effect today 13 January to schools. We have been informed that this information note will now issue to schools early next week. The INTO FAQ page in the Covid-19 Support Hub has been amended and will be updated again when the department’s Information Note issues to schools. In the meantime members are advised to follow the public health advice on the HSE website.

School Ventilation and Classroom Temperatures

We are continuing to address ventilation issues in schools from cold temperatures being reported to the installation of filtration systems and in some cases the need for the installation of more permanent ventilation systems in classrooms. We urge members to engage with school management in the first instance where you experience issues with ventilation. School leaders are advised to contact the Planning and Building unit in the Department of Education for advice and support when a local solution is not available.

Pregnant Teachers and Teachers with underlying health conditions

We are aware too of the concerns raised in respect of medically vulnerable and pregnant teachers and we have sought assurances from the Department of Education that this cohort of workers will be closely monitored by public health, the occupational health service and the department in the period ahead.

Student Teachers

We continue to liaise with the Department of Education, Higher Education Institutions and the Teaching Council regarding the deployment of third and fourth year student teachers who are acting in the place of teachers who cannot attend their schools. We deeply appreciate the flexibility shown by student teachers and their colleges of education as we all strive to support our schools at this challenging time.

Student Availability/ School Placement

College  Student Teacher availability
Hibernia  PME 1 and 2: All students available, even those on placement as per DE request.
DCU PME 2 and B. Ed 4 students commence ‘Adapted Placement’ as per appendix to the DE circular, (Jan 17th-Feb 18th). Students to present in schools for prep week (17th Jan).

B. Ed 3 not available as they are in lectures while B. Ed 4 are on SP


Froebel Assessed School placement deferred until March.

B.Ed. 3 and 4, PME 1 and 2 available for substitute work. College has advised students to contact their SP schools and offer to sub there are per Appendix to DE Circular.


Mary Immaculate College 4th Years currently available until Jan 24th when College resumes.   The timetable will facilitate one day for subbing on return as envisaged in the DES document.


3rd Years, PME 1 and 2 are undertaking an on-line Gaeltacht module, Jan. 5th – 19th. One provider offers it from 5.00pm – 9.00pm thus facilitating day-time subbing. The other provider has not made an evening option available.


PME1 back to lectures on Jan. 24th – their timetable may facilitate one day free for subbing.

PME 2 begin Extended Placement on Jan. 24th. As per the DES Information Note, students will be able to engage in paid substitution in the host school, a related cluster school or in any school until Feb. 23rd and resume ‘normal’ placement from Feb. 28th.


Marino Institute of Education B.Ed. 4 and PME 2 students available for substitute work should they wish until Friday February 18th 

B.Ed. 3 students have no lectures on Tuesdays and Fridays and may be available for substitute work on these days.


Your district representative will update members at the Annual General Meeting of your branch this month and we will continue to communicate with you through our website and social media platforms.