'We should have a short circuit breaker': Teacher absences a worry for schools

Public health officials, unions, management bodies, the Minister for Education Norma Foley, and the Department of Education all met yesterday afternoon and they were told that public health advice remains that schools are safe.
'We should have a short circuit breaker': Teacher absences a worry for schools

A Department of Education spokesperson said yesterday’s meeting was “productive with all parties recognising the importance to students of in-school teaching and learning and the need for all in the school community to have regard to the measures in place to support school communities to operate in line with public health advice”. File image.

“I have five members of staff out already. I don’t have replacements. The reality is that students will be sitting there with free classes,” said Coláiste Éamann Rís principal Aaron Wolfe after it was agreed schools will return as planned tomorrow.

Public health officials, unions, management bodies, the Minister for Education Norma Foley, and the Department of Education all met yesterday afternoon and they were told that public health advice remains that schools are safe.

Cork secondary school principal Aaron Wolfe said they will open as directed, but students could be “sitting there” with free classes.

Principal Aaron Wolfe at Colaiste Eamann Ris, Cork. Pic Larry Cummins
Principal Aaron Wolfe at Colaiste Eamann Ris, Cork. Pic Larry Cummins

“We will open but you could have students sitting for three hours in a row with no teacher. I have five members of staff out already.

“I don’t have replacements. Replacement teachers don’t even exist.”

“The reality is that students will be sat there with free classes. They will be getting supervised but they will be missing out on getting taught by specialist teachers,” he said.

The secondary school principal said there will be a lot of people out this week.

He said a short circuit breaker should be introduced.

“We will open up and do our best, but there will be a lot of absences among both students and teachers. I think we should remain closed on Thursday and Friday and introduce a short circuit breaker.”

Cork TD Mick Barry said changes should be made to this year’s Leaving Certificate. Photo: Damien Storan.
Cork TD Mick Barry said changes should be made to this year’s Leaving Certificate. Photo: Damien Storan.

Cork TD Mick Barry said changes should be made to this year’s Leaving Certificate.

“I have been contacted by large numbers of students who feel it is unfair to ask them to sit a traditional Leaving Cert in these circumstances given that they already lost out on months of classroom time when they were in fifth year. There clearly now needs to be talks involving the students themselves about an alternative to a traditional Leaving Cert this year.”

Mr Wolfe agreed with the sentiments expressed by Mr Barry.

“I think they should do the same thing as they did for last year’s Leaving Cert students. They have missed out on a lot of school work in both fifth and sixth year. They should give students the choice. This decision should have been made ages ago. Most of the pupils who sat the exam did better anyway.”

John Murphy, principal of De La Salle College in Macroom echoed Mr Wolfe’s sentiments that replacement teachers “don’t exist”.

“I would be expecting on the law of averages that there will be teachers out. Replacement teachers don’t exist. If you are in a dire situation you might have to end up leaving a class home for the day, do a rotation, and keep your exam classes in school.”

He expressed concern that the meeting between all the various stakeholders was not held until two days before the scheduled reopening of all schools.

“It is frustrating that there are so many uncertainties 48 hours before we are due to reopen.

“This meeting should have been held well in advance of the schools reopening. We are all waiting to find out what is going on.

“We are ready and very hopeful that we will be fully open and that all students will be in a position to attend from the beginning of the school year. It is critical from an educational and wellbeing perspective that they do attend.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said yesterday’s meeting was “productive with all parties recognising the importance to students of in-school teaching and learning and the need for all in the school community to have regard to the measures in place to support school communities to operate in line with public health advice”.

A statement continued: 

“Education stakeholders were briefed by the minister and public health representatives on how the Covid-19 mitigation measures in place in schools have been reviewed by public health and will continue in place in the coming term.

“Public health remains of the view that these mitigation measures are effective and appropriate. Furthermore, public health officials advised that there is no public health rationale to delay the reopening of schools later this week.”

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