A Cork primary school principal has welcomed the news that antigen testing will be available for pupils in schools nationwide from next week, and said that Covid cases are increasing in comparison with previous waves of the virus.
The Minister for Education Norma Foley confirmed yesterday that the programme of antigen testing, led by the HSE, will begin next Monday, November 29.
Adrian Breathnach, principal of Gaelscoil Pheig Sayers on Redemption Road, said the use of antigen testing in schools will prove very useful in detecting positive cases.
“Presently if the children are deemed a close contact but not showing symptoms they can come in. This is where the antigen test would help. We could test them straight away and it would give us a good indication.
“We wouldn’t have to keep kids out for a period of time and lose out on schoolwork. It is vital and most important to keep the schools open.”
Mr Breathnach said their school is currently experiencing more positive Covid cases during this current wave than previous pandemic cycles.
“The measures have risen compared to the last pandemic. We had only one case last time. We have six families out at the moment. It has increased. We can see it getting worse,” he said.
The Education Minister also said that schools remain largely safe places, despite concerns about the spread of Covid-19 and calls from trade unions and headteachers for the resumption of contact tracing.
“There has been nothing easy about Covid. There are no straight lines when it comes to Covid. But notwithstanding that, I do want to acknowledge that there has been considerable support and infection prevention control measures made available to schools.
“Schools continue to be places of low transmission, notwithstanding that we see now in the wider community an increase in terms of Covid,” she said.
Meanwhile, Adrian Breathnach said he is also pleased that more student teachers are to be allowed out of teacher training colleges to alleviate the current substitution crisis. He said he has previously tried recruiting teachers to sub in classrooms on social media platforms but to no avail.
“We are finding it impossible at the moment. I have lost count of the number of times I have put resource teachers into the classroom when they shouldn’t be doing that. That has a knock-on effect as it means the children with special needs are not getting their share then.”
Minister Foley said that the Department of Education is doing all it can to increase the availability of substitute teachers.
Teacher education colleges, following a meeting with Ms Foley on Tuesday, have agreed to release some students to schools. Retired teachers, as part of the plan, will also be able to work for longer in schools without affecting their pension entitlements. Teachers who are on secondment to education support services are now also able to return to work in schools.