The below responses are updated based on information available to INTO on 21 May. Members should bear in mind that this is a fast-changing situation. We will update these FAQs as further information becomes available.
1. Work and Attendance
What work should principals be prioritising at this time?
Providing continuity of education is extremely important and we need to ensure, so far as reasonably possible, that the children in our schools and classes continue to engage with a range of learning activities. Leading continuity of learning is the key role for the principal at this time. However, it is also important that the day to day management of schools is carried out, both to ensure that learning can occur effectively but also that administrative matters are carried out effectively.
The PDST Leadership team has put together resources for principals in carrying out their responsibilities at this time including a resource bundle. This Guidance is divided into four areas: communication structures, leading continuity of learning, supporting staff, and supporting well-being.
Who else should be working?
The letter from the Secretary General of the DES to teachers and principals on 25th March states “Education continuity is critical, in this crisis, for students at all levels of the education sector. In that respect, all schools are expected to proactively ensure that all of their staff contribute to the continuation of educational provision for their students during this period.”
Circular 24/20 states that “In accordance with DPER guidance, all public servants who are not medically advised to self-isolate must be available to carry out work either to deliver services within their own sector (as a priority) or for temporary assignment within the wider public service.”
All school staff who are not on leave (e.g. sick leave, maternity or parental leave, Covid-19 leave), should be available for work. Work patterns may have to be adjusted to accommodate teachers who have caring responsibilities.
What work should teachers be carrying out?
On Friday 3rd April the DES issued Guidance on the Continuity of Education in Primary and Post Primary Schools. The Guidance states “All schools and teachers, including teachers of students with special educational needs, should therefore be regularly communicating and engaging with students to ensure that there is continuity in their learning. Where possible, primary teachers should make every effort to engage with their students on a daily basis and post-primary teachers should do so on the days that they are normally timetabled for lessons with their students. In engaging with students, there should be a balance between the assignment of independent work, whether written or practical, online learning and other tasks in accordance with the learning needs of students and the resources available.”
The DES has issued further guidance for primary schools in supporting children at risk of educational disadvantage and children with special educational needs. The DES has issued also guidance to school on standardised testing and on completing end of year reports.
Class teachers should be expected to support learning at home for the children in their class. SET teachers / EAL teachers should target their support at the children they normally teach, in conjunction with their class teacher. HSCL teachers should work with the principal to support children who may be particularly vulnerable and to ensure that links between home and school are maintained.
Home-learning has posed challenges for many parents and guardians but since the outset of the closure teachers have provided much assistance in terms of sharing invaluable knowledge online to the benefit of others. INTO has compiled a comprehensive list of home learning resources for teachers/ schools to share.
The Professional Development Support Service (PDST) has assembled a list of resources for distance learning and this can be accessed at https://www.pdst.ie/DistanceLearning.
What about other school staff?
Circular 0027/2020 (published 1st April) outlines the arrangements for temporary assignment arrangements for certain staff in the education and training sector to deal with Covid-19. A dedicated process has been established for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs), given the particular skills and experience of these staff in assisting children with additional care needs. All SNAs are to be nominated for temporary assignment and may be called for assignment subject to the terms of Circular 0024/2020.
The DES has confirmed that grants for ancillary staff will be paid to schools as normal. Grant funded staff should be paid as normal. Therefore, there should be no change to payments to secretaries, caretakers, cleaners, bus escorts or any other employee whose pay is grant aided. FSSU Guideline P14 19/20 outlines some essential tasks which should be carried out by administration/ accounts personnel from home, including payroll, returns to Revenue and ongoing maintenance of the accounting system.
Should principals/other school staff attend in the school building?
On 16th May, as part of the implementation of Phase 1 of the Road Map for the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions, the DES issued guidance to school on school staff accessing schools from 18th May. The guidance makes it clear that travel and access to schools after that date is only for essential work that cannot be done remotely.
Engagement between the INTO and the Department of Education continues on the key issues to be considered ahead of a proposed reopening of our schools in September, and the development of a protocol for return to the workplace in the schools sector. In the interim period, there is a provision for staff to access school buildings in limited circumstances.
The guidelines state that schools should continue to facilitate remote working. However, for those staff members who, for exceptional reasons, require access to school premises/facilities for the purposes outlined below, they are owed a duty of care. Social distancing and compliance with public health guidance is the key requirement, access should be minimised and only in circumstances where the work cannot be done remotely. During the COVID-19 shutdown of schools, any access to a school must be approved by the school Principal or a person designated by the Principal.
Access to schools is limited to the following activities:
- Supporting the continuity of learning for the remainder of this school year.
- Organising, preparing and disseminating books and other learning materials to students.
- Online support for the continuity of learning.
- Planning and preparatory work for the 2020/21 school year, including the operation of enrolment, payroll, staffing and redeployment processes.
- Work associated the school meals initiative
The DES has also advised that, from 18 May, travel to schools for essential work that cannot be done remotely is considered a necessary journey.
Should teachers be put forward to be temporarily assigned to other public service work (as per Circular 27/20)?
Circular 0027/2020 (published 1st April) outlines the arrangements for temporary assignment arrangements for certain staff in the education and training sector to deal with Covid-19
The circular letter reiterates the importance of the continuity of primary education. The letter states “The clear priority in the education and training sector is to ensure continuity of education for learners and this is being progressed across the sector using new and innovative ways of working”.
INTO advises that primary school principals and teachers are providing an ongoing and important educational service to their pupils throughout the current health crisis, with schools across the country closed.
While we appreciate some of our members will wish to support the public effort, during this period, their first duty will remain to their student body. Education is an essential service for our students.
INTO acknowledges the role of school management in identifying and linking with staff available for temporary assignment as outlined in the Circular. However, since the start of the closure in numerous interactions with the Department of Education and Skills, they have made it clear that the primary objective of teachers should be the facilitation of their pupils learning.
Some teachers on leave of absence (including on career break) have indicated that they would like to be considered for reassignment. The DES has clarified that “A teacher currently on Career Break may not be considered for temporary assignment as he/she is on an unpaid leave of absence from the school. A return to duty in the school/ETB which granted the Career Break or to the school/ETB where the teacher has been redeployed is not permitted other than at the beginning of a succeeding school year.”
I have a substitute who was scheduled to work during the closure. Will the sub be paid?
The information note issued by DES Primary Payroll on 13th March sets out the arrangements for the payment of salary/pension to staff paid by the DES during school closures due to Covid-19. Schools should not input a school closure on OLCS as they will then be unable to submit substitute claims.
Where a substitute was scheduled to work in the period of the school closure, then the school should continue to record that claim. The substitute will be paid for that scheduled absence. Substitute teachers should be clear that they are required to work to ensure continuity of learning for the children, in place of the teacher on leave. Substitute claims cannot be claimed in advance on the OLCS, therefore, it is important that schools key all absences and input claims for substitutes on the OLCS as normal.
Teachers may, in certain circumstances, be entitled to vary or cancel substitutable leave, and if such leave is cancelled or varied then the substitute will not be required and will not be paid. Boards/ principals should take this into account in considering requests to cancel or vary leave. In particular, principals should consider what commitments were made (either in writing or verbally) to substitutes when they were engaged. Section 9 of Circular 24/20 states that “The rules regarding cancellation of leave (e.g. Parental Leave) must be in accordance with the terms and conditions of the relevant Department publications. See section 3 below in relation to those rules.
DES has advised that it has implemented remote working from home for Department staff. This includes the operation of the school staff payrolls on a remote basis. If you need to contact the DES you should do so by email at Prim_tch@education.gov.ie or OLCSBusinessUnit@education.gov.ie.
There is a scheduled substitutable absence in my school. Should I engage a substitute teacher for the absent teacher?
Yes. Principals should continue to engage substitute teachers to ensure the continuation of educational provision for their students during this period. An exception to this would be where a course/ medical appointment/ surgery etc has been cancelled and the sub is no longer required as the teacher is available for work. Substitute teachers should be clear that they are required to work to ensure continuity of learning for the children, in place of the teacher on leave.
2. Administrative Matters
The DES issued a note to schools on 1st April outlining arrangements for planning and preparatory work for the coming school year, including the operation of school enrolment processes, teacher allocation and redeployment processes and teacher appointment processes. INTO advises that this work is important to ensure continuity of education provision, and to ensure that schools can reopen quickly when public health advice allows.
Staffing and Redeployment
The main panels issued to panel operators (Patrons) on 20th May. Schools should now proceed to fill permanent vacancies from these panels, in accordance with Circular 18/2020 and the associated redeployment FAQs. If your school has a permanent vacancy, you should contact the relevant panel operator to access the panel list.
Appointment Procedures (Chapter 2 – Circular 44/19)
The current appointment procedures for teachers/ principals provide for interviewing using digital technology, at the discretion of the Board of Management. INTO has been requesting that the DES issue guidance to schools in relation to digital interviewing. However, to date, no such guidance has issued. Principals are advised to contact their management bodies and patrons for advice on this matter. However, if proceeding with interviews using digital technology, Boards should be conscious of extending the best possible opportunity to teachers to participate in interviews.
Appointments to Posts of Responsibility (Chapter 3- Circular 44/19)
Currently, schools are unable to carry out appointments to AP1/ AP2 posts as the requirements outlined in Chapter 3 of Circular 44/19 cannot be met in respect of consultation, giving notice of a post and the posting of the outcome in the school. The INTO has been seeking guidance from the DES in respect of this. When it becomes available we will post on the INTO website.
School admissions policies and enrolments under the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018
The DES has advised that Admission policies must be in place, in line with the requirements in the 2018 Admissions Act and the timelines previously advised. INTO has published guidance to assist principals in carrying out this task.
Board of Management Meetings
Owing to the current crisis, principals and schools are being asked to make decisions on matters which they may never have considered previously. Principals are advised to maintain regular contact with the Chair of their Board of Management, and where necessary to convene a meeting of their Board to consider significant matters. DES has advised that Section 13.3 (g) of the Governance Manual for Primary Schools 2019 – 2023 provides for the use of conference calls to facilitate Board meetings. The DES has clarified that this may include the use of on-line platforms, once the Board is satisfied that appropriate security measures are in place to protect confidentiality. Where phones and other on-line media platforms have been used to host the meeting, this should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. The normal requirements for confidentiality continue to apply. Some management bodies have issued further guidance to schools in relation to this.
Child Protection Matters
The Department of Education and Skills has advised that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency measures, the requirement to provide a Child Protection Oversight Report (CPOR) will not apply to board meetings held remotely, whether by video conference or teleconference. This is because it is not possible to meet the requirement to provide to board members the specified documentation at the board meeting.
The Principal must continue to maintain the relevant data and records for the CPOR which shall be provided at the next face to face meeting of the Board. The data in the report must reflect cases arising since the previous CPOR was provided to the Board of Management
Notice of teachers’ intention to retire
The Pension section in the DES recently send a form to schools by email, asking them to identify teaching/non-teaching staff who were “preparing to retire”.
The DES informed INTO that they would be issuing this notice, and had planned to do so at a much earlier stage. Their rationale is that it will assist the DES Pension Section with the processing of pension payments.
INTO reminded the DES that teachers were contractually bound to give a minimum three month notice period to their Boards of Management, and could not be compelled to give notice earlier, and the DES accepted this. However, INTO does accept that where a teacher has given formal notice to a Board of their intention to retire in advance of the three month period, it may be helpful in terms of processing that teacher’s pension to inform the DES. Therefore, the return of a teachers details on the form must be at the discretion of the teacher. Principals should confirm with the teacher that they consent to the return of the form.
3. Managing leave
A member of my staff is on sick leave - what should I do as a principal?
Schools/principals and other OLCS inputters should continue to record and amend absences during the current closure, and the administrative aspect of sick leave will be managed as it would be if schools were open.
Sick leave should continue to be recorded, and substitute teachers who have been employed to cover the absences will remain in receipt of salary, for the duration of the medical certificate provided by a teacher.
Where a teacher is absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, you should follow the dates of the certificate and end the sick leave during the closure. You can accept the teacher’s own doctor’s confirmation of their fitness.
If a teacher has been absent for a longer period – more than twenty-eight days consecutively or cumulatively in the past twelve months – they must be referred to the OHS, Medmark, and be certified as fit to work in order for the school/ principal to end the period of sick leave on the OLCS. Medmark is continuing to operate and will provide telephone consultations during this time, and will be in contact with affected members.
Applications for critical illness should be processed in the normal manner.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
A teacher in my school is scheduled for surgery and was due to be absent but the surgery has been cancelled. What should I do?
You should cancel the sick leave on the OLCS. If a substitute has been booked they will not be required as there is no substitutable absence.
A staff member has been diagnosed with Covid-19 or has been advised by the HSE/ doctor to self -isolate or restrict my movements. What should I do?
Circular 24/20 sets out that an employer may grant special leave with pay to an employee where appropriate HSE or medical confirmation of COVID-19 diagnosis or recommendation to self-isolate or to restrict his/her movements is provided, in accordance with the HSE Guidelines. Substitution for such days will be paid by the Paymaster where a substitute is required to provide tuition or care to pupils.
Any special leave with pay granted for the purpose of diagnosis of COVID-19, self-isolation or restricted movements will not be counted as part of the employee’s Sick Leave record. The special leave with pay entitlement will apply for the number of days advised by the HSE/doctor.
You must contact your school if any of the above circumstances apply.
Can leave which a teacher/SNA has booked be change
Section 9 of Circular 24/20 states that “The rules regarding cancellation of leave (e.g. Parental Leave) must be in accordance with the terms and conditions of the relevant Department publications.
A teacher is on unpaid leave at present. Can she change the leave to be paid during the closure?
The information note issued by the DES Payroll on 12th March is very clear that leave cannot be changed where an absence has been recorded on the OLCS and a substitute has been contracted to cover the leave:
Scheduled leave absences which have already been recorded on the OLCS cannot be deleted/amended as a result of the government direction to close schools. Where a substitute was scheduled to work in the period of the school closure, then the school should continue to record that claim. The substitute will be paid for that scheduled absence.
Can teachers withdraw applications for leave
Circular 24/20 states that “The rules regarding cancellation of leave (e.g. Parental Leave) must be in accordance with the terms and conditions of the relevant Department publications.” ie Circular 54/19
There are various categories of unpaid leave, with various conditions attaching to the schemes. (see below)
Any changes to unpaid leave will be at the discretion of the Board of Management/ ETB, and must be in accordance with the rules for the leave. In considering requests to vary leave already granted, Boards/ETBs should take into account whether or not they have engaged a substitute teacher to cover a leave absence.
The information note issued by the DES on 13th March is clear that recorded leaves of absence shouldn’t be amended solely on the basis of the current closure. However, Boards / ETBs may take into account that teacher’s personal circumstances may have changed since the application for leave was made and may wish to accommodate requests on that basis.
What are the conditions governing requests for changes to unpaid leave?
Unpaid Maternity Leave
Per Circular 54/2019, Chapter Two, part 17.1:
“Termination of Statutory Additional Unpaid Maternity/Father’s Leave
An application to take statutory additional unpaid Maternity Leave or statutory additional unpaid Father’s Leave, may be withdrawn in writing, for any reason, up to 4 weeks prior to the proposed commencement date for such leave. If the 4 week cancellation period provided for in the Act has passed, entitlement to withdraw an application has been lost.”
Statutory Unpaid Adoptive Leave
Per Circular 54/2019, Chapter Three, part 15.1:
“Termination of Statutory Additional Unpaid Adoptive/Father’s Leave
An application to take statutory additional unpaid Adoptive Leave, or statutory additional unpaid Father’s Leave, may be withdrawn in writing, for any reason, up to 4 weeks prior to the proposed commencement date of such leave. If the 4 week cancellation period provided for in the Act has passed, entitlement to withdraw an application has been lost.”
Per circular 54/2019, Chapter Five, parts 12 , 14 and 15
The parental leave circular makes provision for parental leave to be suspended by the teacher in the event that the teacher becomes too ill to care for their child, of if the employer believes the teacher is using the parental leave for a purpose other than child-care.
In relation to requests to change work hours/pattern, S15 states that “Such a request must be made in writing to the employer not later than 6 weeks before the proposed commencement of the change in work pattern specifying the nature of the changes requested, the date of commencement and duration of the change in work pattern”.
Otherwise, as per the Confirmation Document at Appendix B of the relevant chapter, “Following signing, no amendment can be made to the Confirmation Document without the agreement of both parties. A copy of the Confirmation Document should be retained by the teacher.”
Discretionary unpaid leave
Circular 54/2019 Chapter Eleven is silent on the withdrawal of a request for unpaid leave days, so this may be addressed on a case by case basis by schools.
If the leave has been recorded on the OLCS and a substitute has been engaged to cover the absences, this arrangement will be unaffected by the current school closure and the substitute will be paid. If a substitute has not been employed, a Board of Management/ ETB may allow for the withdrawal of the leave request, subject to Primary Payroll operational
Career Break and Job Share applications for 2020/21
Teachers had up to 14th April to withdraw an application for a career break or job share for next school year. Career break and job share applications after this date may only be withdrawn at the discretion of the Board of Management and will usually be facilitated if the school have not yet employed a fixed term teacher for the year ahead.
Please note, this condition is highlighted for the benefit of teachers who may find themselves in changed financial circumstances due to recent events. The INTO has no cause to believe that schools will remain closed into the start of the new school year.
Per paragraph 12.1 of Chapter 6 of 54/2019:
The period of Carer’s Leave shall terminate on the date specified on the Confirmation Document at the time of application, except where the relevant person:
- ceases to require full-time care and attention during the period of Carer’s Leave, or
- dies during a period of Carer’s Leave. If the relevant person dies during the period of Carer’s Leave, the teacher may return on the date specified in the Confirmation Document or on a date which occurs 6 weeks after the date of the death whichever is the earlier.
Otherwise, per the Confirmation Document at Appendix B of the relevant chapter, “Following signing, no amendment can be made to the Confirmation Document without the agreement of both parties. A copy of the Confirmation Document should be retained by the teacher.”
Can EPV days be taken by teachers during the closure?
INTO wishes to clarify that under Rule 58 of the Rules for National Schools, primary teachers are entitled to extra personal vacation days on foot of attending approved professional development courses in the Summer.
Teachers are entitled to take extra personal vacation days in the school year immediately following the completion of the course, in line with Circulars 37/97 and 0035/2009. Primary teachers must apply in writing to their BOM for the use of their EPV days. Boards of Management may decide on the timing of the use of EPV days but this does not remove the entitlement of teachers to take this leave, subject to school procedures.
Members may still apply to their boards of management for their EPV days between now and the end of the school year. EPV days for the current school year may not be carried over to next year . Principals are reminded that non casual subs are entitled to avail of EPV days, on a pro rata basis.
Will teachers be entitled to take EPV days next year?
Teachers who complete DES approved professional development courses this summer will be entitled to take EPV days in the next academic year, according to Circulars 37/97 and 0035/2009 and rule 58 for national schools.
The INTO Summer Programme is now open for bookings.