CALLS have been made for the Government to tackle overcrowding in schools, ahead of their reopening amid new Covid-19 guidelines.
Schools have received grants to assist with the logistical arrangements in advance of reopening, and extra teaching resources have also been sanctioned.
To date, almost €160m has been issued to schools in direct funding to cover minor works, support to assist with reopening, and cleaning and personal protective equipment costs.
Funding has also been made available for additional sanctioned teaching posts.
However, Aaron Wolfe, principal of Coláiste Éamann Rís, called on the Government to urgently address overcrowded classrooms.
Mr Wolfe said overcrowding was an issue before the pandemic and that concern over class sizes has only grown in recent weeks.
“There has to be greater investment in education and it has to focus on getting class sizes down,” he said. “The education sector has been badly underfunded from the very beginning and overcrowding in schools was a problem before Covid.
“Classes in Ireland are too big. The Government needs to look at older school buildings like our own here, which was built in 1968, and look at how they can provide extra space because the rooms are too small.
“That needs to be made a priority.”
Mr Wolfe also criticised the timeline provided for schools to reopen, saying principals and staff were left with little time to prepare.
“They’ve given us very short notice. They knew this was coming and they had six months to prepare. They’ve given us three weeks.”
Education Minister Norma Foley yesterday announced new details of the proposed roadmap to reopen schools. In addition to the available funding, the department will issue 250,000 age-appropriate posters on handwashing, face coverings, and other hygiene measures next week.
It is also providing a series of induction training videos for all school staff at primary and post-primary level. This series of videos includes further detailed information for cleaning, SNAs, school bus escorts, and the new Covid-19 lead worker representative in schools.
The department’s National Educational Psychological Service has also developed webinars.
Ms Foley paid tribute “to the work that is being undertaken at a local school level to ensure that we can reopen our schools at the end of the month”. She added: “We are fully focused on ensuring our children have a safe environment to return to and the work you are doing is critical to achieving that goal. I hope that these extra resources are of value to schools as they continue their preparations.
“It is important that we put an emphasis on the wellbeing of the whole school community as this year’s school reopening will pose different challenges for everyone. We will continue to communicate with principals, students, parents and all stakeholders over the next couple of weeks and update all materials as necessary.”