Government unveils plan to support reopening of schools in August

Leitrim Observer Reporter

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Leitrim Observer Reporter

Sinn Féin claims talk of reopening schools is premature

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An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD, Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan TD today, Monday 27 July, announced the publication of Reopening Our Schools: The Roadmap for The Full Return to School, along with details of a financial package of over €375m to support its implementation, following approval by Government.

The roadmap outlines a comprehensive range of measures being provided to support the full reopening of schools in time for the start of the new school year in late August.

It was developed following intensive engagement with stakeholders from the education sector, including teachers’ unions, representatives of principals and deputy principals, school management bodies, representatives of parents and post-primary students and support staff.

The package of €376m includes:

  • Plans for an additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level at a cost of €53m, to include the following measures:
    120 guidance posts will be provided to support student wellbeing
  • An initial allocation of over 600 posts to be made available to post-primary schools
  • Remaining posts will be used to support those post-primary schools. experiencing particular difficulties to reopen fully and adhere to physical distancing and class sizes.
  • Additional funding, estimated at €84.7m, so that schools can employ replacement teaching staff, SNA and administrative staff. This can occur where staff members who are identified in line with HSE guidance as at ‘very high risk’ of Covid-19 are advised to cocoon.
  • Additional funding of €41.2m, to provide primary schools with substitute staff. This will provide more certainty on the availability of substitutes for primary schools and cover substitutions that are not covered by existing schemes, as well as where staff members who display symptoms cannot come to work in the school, in line with public health advice.
  • An estimated additional cost of €40m to provide post-primary schools with additional supervision of students. This will be a key control measure to support schools to minimising interaction of students from different classes, in line with public health advice.
  • An additional €52m for schools to put in place enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools. This is being provided on a per-pupil basis and is intended to allow an additional four to six hours cleaning per day in schools.
  • Provide all teaching principals at primary level with a minimum of one release day per week to relieve the administrative burden arising from the changes and the impacts of Covid-19 and a new measure to provide deputy principals with some release days, ranging from 5 days to 16 days depending on the school size, to support administrative principals.
  • A €75m capital allocation to support schools to prepare their buildings and classrooms for reopening including an uplift for schools with SEN pupils.
  • €4.2m to enable schools to employ an aide to implement the logistical changes needed in schools – moving furniture, changing classroom layouts, set up hand sanitising stations, signage etc.
  • €3.8m to provide release time for each school to have a lead worker representative, whose role is to support the school to manage the risk of COVID-19 infections.
  • The plan and its accompanying documentation provides schools with guidance on training, checklists for schools on preparing for reopening and guidance for operating the school safely in a Covid-context. It advises on areas across logistics, curriculum, teaching, managing school activities, supporting pupils with additional needs, administration and wellbeing.

Minister 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. I want to thank everyone involved for the huge commitment in bringing this vast amount of work together.

“There is a strong emphasis in the roadmap on safety, and on practical arrangements, but also on ensuring the wellbeing of the students and of the entire staff community.

“I am deeply conscious that children and young people have had their learning disrupted due to the global pandemic. So many of our teachers, our school staff and our parents and students went far beyond their normal roles to keep teaching and to provide learning experiences to students. It was an enormously challenging time.

“I have today written to all members of school staff and to parents, thanking them for the roles they are playing and will continue to play as we return at the end of August. We will continue to communicate with schools and through them with parents and students, as schools return, and keep a close eye to ensure that the supports are working as they should."