By Dominic McGrath, PA
The Minister for Education has said that the Government will not be “found wanting” when it comes to supporting schools, as the HSE continues to test and contact trace a large number of pupils.
Norma Foley, speaking on Wednesday, said that the HSE and schools were currently dealing with a “pinch point” in terms of testing and contact tracing for Covid-19.
“We know, the nature of pandemic, there are moments where there’s particular pinch points and there are other moments when there is more of a lull but we have always shown that incredible flexibility, that when situations arise, we meet them head on, we put in place what needs to be put in place,” she said.
“We will not be found wanting in terms of my own department.”
Thousands of students have been identified as close contacts since their return to schools, creating extra pressure on the HSE and the test and trace system.
1. Today the Government approved additional targeted funding of €52.6 million for the coming school year for the CLASS programme. This means every school will get additional teaching hours, to support the students that need it most in a targeted way.
— Norma Foley T.D (@NormaFoleyTD1) September 8, 2021
On Wednesday, Ms Foley said that the HSE would be providing additional resources to public health teams as pressure continues on principals.
Headteachers have expressed concerns about how long it is taking to get a response from the existing support helpline.
“We are very happy to offer any additionality. We already have more than 110 staff supporting the work of the helpline,” the minister said.
She said that not every school had had a negative experience since pupils had gone back and defended the Government’s handling of the return to school.
The Government had followed the best public health advice in the re-opening of schools, she said.
Ms Foley said she was not able to predict when pressure on the test and trace system would decrease, but said that the signs were good.
“From our engagement with public health, they are telling us that the positivity rates are coming down. They’re telling us that everything is moving in a positive direction.
“But notwithstanding all of that, we have continued to put in place all the required mitigation measures within our schools. We are resourcing them to the fullest.”
Also on Wednesday, Ms Foley and junior minister Josepha Madigan announced a new scheme to support students affected by the closure and disruption of schools due to the pandemic.
As part of the scheme, every school will receive allocated additional teaching hours and can provide additional supports and resources to the pupils who need it.
The Department of Education said that “enhanced” allocations will be provided to special schools, as well as those in more deprived areas.