Statements Made by Education Minister in Relation to the Further Opening of Schools

INTO is acutely aware of the statement made by the minister of education regarding a proposed return to work for all teachers on the 17 August 2020.   While this return to work date does not breach the Teachers’ (Terms and Conditions of Employment) Regulations (NI) 1987 which defines a school year as commencing on the 31 July, INTO believes it breaches the spirit of the agreement.

However, while a school year may legally begin on the 31 July, the Regulation also states that a teacher shall be available to work for no more than 195 days in any year.  Therefore, to start the school year at this early date will mean that there will be a knock-on effect for the new school year, and it will either be much shorter or have longer school closures throughout the school year.

This arbitrary decision to open schools early has not taken account of normal life before Covid-19 where teachers had booked holidays which were in-keeping with either the normal or informed summer closure dates.  INTO will be insisting that teachers who booked holidays, in good faith and before the implications of Covid-19 were known, should not suffer any detriment if they do not return in time for the amended school calendar.

This ministerial decision was made without proper consultation with either the teaching unions or the employees who are tasked with actioning this decision.  INTO believes that this decision made during the Covid-19 lockdown shows no regard for teacher wellbeing and INTO will be robustly challenging this decision and will encourage the other education unions to join them in this challenge.

INTO has yet to receive any valid reason as to why schools should reopen on 17 August 2020 for the 2020/21 school year as suggested by the Education Minister. At time of writing this remains a ‘non-compulsory’ date.

INTO must therefore advise members to continue to plan within the school reopening dates as previously agreed with staff at individual school level, for the 2020/21 school year in line with PHA, medical and scientific advice at that time.

This advice may be amended should the minister issue a directive to the contrary.