The below responses are updated based on information available to INTO at 31 March 2020. Members should bear in mind that this is a fast-changing situation. We will update these FAQs as further information becomes available.
Work and Attendance
The announcement on Friday, 27 March in relation to essential work makes it clear that teachers should not be travelling to their place of work and should work from home. Effective 6pm, on Monday, 30 March, school buildings are no longer be accessible to school staff until Easter Sunday, 12 April (except in the case of school staff who are involved in planning for the distribution of school meals to vulnerable pupils- see update on school meals).
Education is an essential service 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.
The letter from the Secretary General of the DES to teachers and principals on 25 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.”
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.
By offering guidance and practical advice, you’ll be providing vital tools to those managing home learning for the first time and can help keep children’s learning on track during this unprecedented time while schools are closed. Post links to recommended teaching resources that provide useful material for parents and guardians who may be continuing to feel the pressure of creating their own curriculum. It’s also a good idea to reassure families who are struggling that they’re not expected to re-create school at home. Children may be feeling anxious and if they’re finding it difficult to keep up with structured learning, they can learn other life skills at home through cooking, baking, physical exercise, play and meditation. INTO has compiled a comprehensive list of home-schooling resources for you 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. In a recent trend, teachers are taking to social media to offer help to their online community. In a post, teachers state their area of expertise, whether they teach in primary or secondary, and offer their support to parents and guardians who are at home with young children or home-schooling. This can be a great support but ensure that you prioritise the learning of the children in your own school.
Members are reminded that if you are providing support online, consider setting up an email/social media presence specifically for professional purposes rather than providing access to your personal account.
No formal lessons or instructions should be provided by teachers during the Easter period. Schools should ensure that parents and pupils are aware that any home based/remote learning will not take place during this break. We are all in this together and parents need our help, so we are encouraging our members to provide some guidance to parents on activities for their children during the break (reading, useful websites for learning, activities on the theme of Easter, etc.). Pupils should be encouraged to keep up their reading and other learning activities.
[ dropdown question="What about other school staff?”]
The announcement on Friday, 27 March in relation to essential work makes it clear that other school staff should not be travelling to their place of work and should work from home where possible. Effective 6pm, on Monday, 30 March, school buildings are no longer be accessible to school staff until Easter Sunday, 12 April (except in the case of school staff who are involved in planning for the distribution of school meals to vulnerable pupils - see update on school meals).
Circular 24/20 indicates that a temporary assignment scheme will be introduced in accordance with DPER guidance, and that “Any employee who is not required to be retained in providing educational services will therefore be available to be assigned on a temporary basis to support delivery of other essential public services.”
We expect further guidance on this will issue in the near future.
The DES has confirmed that grants for ancillary staff will be paid to schools as normal. Grant funded staff should be paid as normal for the period up to 19 April 2020. Therefore, there should be no change to payments to secretaries, caretakers, cleaners, bus escorts or any other employee whose pay is grant aided. A further update will be communicated prior to 19 April 2020.
[ dropdown question="I am a substitute who was scheduled to work during the closure. Will I be paid?”]
The information note issued by DES Primary Payroll on 13 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 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.
Substitute teachers should be aware that teachers may in certain circumstances be entitled to vary or cancel leave. 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. School staff should email queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please quote your PPSN, teacher number and phone number in your email query.
[/dropdown][ dropdown question="I am a substitute who was not scheduled to work during the closure. What should I do?”]
The Department of Employment and Social Affairs has issued revised guidance in relation to social welfare payments for those who have become unemployed as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Substitute teachers who had not secured employment prior to the closure are advised to make application for the emergency payment / job seekers allowance/ short term work support for the duration of the closure. Any queries in relation to this should be addressed to your local Intreo office or mywelfare.ie.
[/dropdown][ dropdown question="I am a principal and 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.
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 school staff should email queries to the designated payroll email addresses listed below. Please quote your PPSN, teacher number and phone number in your email query.
Payroll Division Contact Details
Payroll Email address
Primary Payroll email@example.com
Post Primary Payroll PPpayroll@education.gov.ie
Non-Teaching Staff Payroll NTSpayroll@education.gov.ie
Retired Payroll RTPS@education.gov.ie
OLCS IT support firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sick leave
If you are still unfit for work, you should continue to provide certification to your school and to apply for illness benefit (if you pay Class A PRSI). Paid sick leave will continue in line with the provisions set out in Chapter 1 of Circular 54/19.
If you recover, you should indicate to your school/principal that you are now fit for work, and they should update the OLCS accordingly. If you have been absent for a short-term illness, on a medical certificate ending during the current closure, the school/ principal will follow the dates of the certificate and can end the sick leave during the closure. The principal 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 has confirmed to INTO that it is continuing to operate and will provide telephone consultations during this time, and will be in contact with affected members.
If you need to apply for Critical Illness Protocol, you should do so in the normal manner.
In summary, sick leave should be treated as if the school was in operation.
[ dropdown question="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. The principal 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.
The information note issued by the DES Payroll on 12 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.
[ dropdown question="I have applied for unpaid leave starting after Easter? Can I withdraw my application 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.” i.e. 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 13 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.
[/dropdown][ dropdown question="What are the conditions governing requests for changes to unpaid leave?”]
5. PRSD and Pay Progression
Because of COVID-19 I am unable to complete my PRSD which I need to advance up the upper pay scale. What will happen?
Because observations cannot be conducted during the Coronavirus epidemic, they will have to be postponed. Also given that UPS movement is usually not signed off by principals until October each year, INTO will be requesting that when schools reconvene for the 2020/21 academic term that they use September to carry out the missed observations from the 2019/20 academic year.
In the interim INTO will be pressing EA to introduce a COVID-19 waiver similar to the maternity waiver.
6. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings in NI Guidance: 27 March 2020
No. Only children from the defined groups who cannot be safely cared for at home. This will help to limit the chance of them both catching and spreading the virus.
Does this guidance change the previous advice about teachers with underlying health conditions remaining at home?
No. This changes nothing. INTO’s advice in regard to teachers with underlying conditions teaching remotely from home remains. Also, teachers with caring responsibilities for people with underlying health conditions should also teach remotely from home.
Simply put, pupils can only be accommodated in schools if stringent social distancing can be adhered to.
- Inform parents of exactly what is expected from children
- Schools should not have any unnecessary visitors
- Ensure small class sizes
- Stagger school starting and finishing times
- Stagger lunch and break times
Will I have to provide a certificate from my doctor to confirm medical information I have provided to school?
This may be required by the school but can be obtained retrospectively.