Plans must be put in place to protect the needs of vulnerable students by ensuring they receive the necessary tuition, food, and care in the weeks ahead, primary teachers have warned.
With schools due to remain closed until at least late April due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation have contacted the union with deep concerns for the most vulnerable pupils.
That is according to John Boyne, general secretary of the INTO, who has written to Joe McHugh, the education minister, referencing “[students] who are homeless, who come from families in our most acutely disadvantaged areas, children with complex needs, and children in direct provision centres”.
“Some of these children live in circumstances where, for reasons of accommodation or language challenges, it is very difficult to have any continuity of learning.”
"Over the last 10 days many principals and teachers have been reaching out to vulnerable students to ensure they have what they need," he said.
“They are telling us that a coordinated cross-departmental response is needed to ensure that these children receive necessary tuition, food and care in the weeks ahead.”
The INTO is happy to meet with officials from the Department of Education and other relevant departments to see how vital support can be delivered to the students who need them most.
Approximately 250,000 children receive food, with a further 7,000 children receiving hot meals, through school meal programmes delivered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
Meanwhile, the three teaching unions also called for support for substitute teachers, whose regular work has ended for at least the next three weeks.
In a joint letter by the INTO, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI), and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), the three unions called for clarity on payments and entitlements for substitutes whose work has stopped.
“We are anxious to ensure that the minds of these key education workers are put at ease and that they and their families are in a position to meet the immediate challenge during this difficult period.”
The three unions welcomed the Government’s decision to establish a temporary wage subsidy scheme.
“We hope that substitute teachers, whose work has stopped will be eligible for this scheme. If the scheme will be available to substitute teachers we urge you to let us know so that we can bring the good news to our substitute members as soon as possible.”
"If substitute teachers are not currently eligible, they should be included, or alternatively the Department of Education should make similar provisions available to them," says the letter.
“In the meantime, we would appreciate if you would confirm that as an interim measure, substitute teachers are eligible to apply for the enhanced Covid-19 unemployment benefit of €350 per week.”