Cork TD: Schools reopening plan 'a mess'; 'ridiculous' timeline to implement safety measures

Cork TD: Schools reopening plan 'a mess'; 'ridiculous' timeline to implement safety measures

THE plan to get schools open in September has been criticised by a member of the opposition. 

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that the implementation of the roadmap to reopen schools is going to be very difficult because of the tight time frame involved.

He has also said that there are glaring omissions in the government's roadmap; describing it as a wasted opportunity to take real action to reduce class sizes and he has said that there are major issues in a number of key areas.

"Schools have to re-open in September. That is critical for parents, teachers and children alike.

Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.Pic Darragh Kane
Sinn Féin's Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.Pic Darragh Kane

"Unfortunately, the government has made a mess of this from the very start. Sinn Féin have been pushing for a roadmap for the reopening of schools for months, but that never materialised until now - just weeks before schools are due to reopen.

"Now that we have a plan, three or four weeks is a ridiculous timeframe to turn some of this around and I am shocked at the lack of action in some areas.

"One in five primary school children are in a class of over thirty. We have the biggest primary school class sizes in Europe and the government seems to think it is a good idea to keep them that way.

"If there was ever a time to reduce class sizes, surely this is it. Sinn Féin will be using our private members time tomorrow to call on the government to immediately and drastically reduce class sizes, and I will be raising this directly with the Minister.

"We are also very worried that the government have massively underestimated the number of substitute teachers required for panels at primary school level.

"Last year there were more than 500 teachers a day who were not being replaced by a substitute teacher, but the government are only providing 200 teachers for panels in this plan. This wouldn’t even meet the need for last year; never mind the challenges of Covid-19.

"Implementing this has been made extremely difficult by the government's self-imposed timeline. Schools will find it very difficult to find additional space and recruit the staff they need in that timeframe.

"There is also no increased allocation for special education - at a time of enormously increased need. These are the children who have lost out the most in recent months.

"I will be writing to the Minister tonight to outline my concerns, which I strongly believe she needs to take on board and to address right away. Schools have to re-open in September. We all need to work towards that goal."

A thousand extra teachers are to be hired to help reduce class sizes.

Additional substitute educators, supervision staff, guidance counsellors and psychologists will also be part of the 375 million euro initiative to ensure it is safe.

An additional 52 million euros will pay for enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission, the Government said.

All teaching principals at primary level will receive a minimum of one release day per week to relieve the administrative burden arising from the changes and coronavirus recovery.

An extra 75 million euros will support preparing buildings and classrooms for reopening, including an uplift for those with special educational needs pupils.

A total of 4.2 million euros will enable employment of an aide to implement logistical changes needed in schools - moving furniture, changing classroom layouts, setting up hand sanitising stations and signage.

Education Minister Norma Foley said: "We have worked extremely hard to develop plans that not only provide certainty to schools as to what they need to do, but that are meaningful, practical and realistic.

"These have been informed by the expertise and collaboration of the stakeholders, and truly take account of how schools operate on a day-to-day basis."

The 1,080 extra teaching posts will be available to post-primaries in recognition of challenges they face around social distancing.

One-metre spacing between post-primary students may require refurbishment of schools, as smaller groups will be taught together.

Younger children will not be expected to socially distance.

At primary level each class will be a bubble and children will be in pods with a metre between the pods.

More than one million students and approximately 100,000 staff will be returning to 4,000 schools at the end of August, in a key priority of the new Government.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said: "There is simply no substitute for students learning within schools in the presence of their peers and teachers."

An extra 120 guidance workers will be hired to support student wellbeing.

Face masks will not be essential for staff or students.

Mr Martin said reopening represented an unprecedented policy and logistical challenge.

He added: "Our schools are at the heart of our communities and reopening them is a critical step in recovering from the worst impact of the pandemic.

"It is a comprehensive range of measures backed by major new resources.

"Extra staff, extra funding, clear guidance and new supports will help every school adapt to its own needs."

The National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals said the guidance offered long-awaited clarity.

Director Clive Byrne said: "We look forward to welcoming an additional 1,000 teachers to our schools and will move to recruit these as soon as possible.

"Additional teaching and support staff will allow us to maintain social distancing and public health requirements while we work to maintain a strong standard of education."

As of midnight on Sunday, the health system has been notified of 11 confirmed cases of Covid-19.

There is now a total of 25,892 confirmed cases in Ireland.

No new deaths have been reported, the National Public Health Emergency Team said.

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