30th October 2020
As school leaders and teachers prepare for their return after the Halloween break they have increased concerns about the sustainability of their schools to operate safely. Their concerns have been met with silence from both the Minister and the PHA.
INTO received a response to concerns they had raised from the PHA on 22nd October 2020 which referenced a “focus on limiting transmission of COVID in our schools and making sure they are a safe environment for children and staff”. The PHA also stated that they would be publishing an analysis of transmission within and between bubbles, this information has not been forthcoming and is central to schools reviewing risk assessments and tightening or introducing new mitigating factors.
The half term break was an opportunity for the PHA and Department of Education (DE) to improve the efficiency and timeliness of support to schools with positive cases. Has this been done and when can schools expect to receive this crucial information?
School leaders must have confidence in the advice and support they are receiving from the PHA and the guidance from DE. INTO is aware that staffing levels were reaching crisis point in many schools before the holidays and with a significant number of staff indicating that they will not be fit to return to work due to becoming ill after the school closure on 19th October 2020, a return to school appears to sign post a continued staffing crises. School leaders may need to consider whether they can fully open schools for all pupils on a 5-day basis.
The stress that school leaders were managing following a positive case in their school is not sustainable. The PHA must take a more proactive and responsive role in track and tracing and in the support they offer.
INTO would urgently call for a commitment by the Minister of Education to a review of safety in schools and review of mitigating steps currently in place and a return to the original guidance as laid out in the June is called for. The issue of mask wearing, the safety and practicality of a full return in all schools and an honest appraisal of the exams situation. Pupils and staff cannot continue in the uncertainty they are experiencing. INTO remains, as always, willing to assist the Department, PHA and Minister Weir in getting this right.