‘Significant’ amount of extra staff needed to reopen schools

Schools will need a significant amount of extra staff as part of comprehensive plans to reopen schools fully and normally in September, a committee has heard.

Sean O Foghlu, secretary general of the Department of Education, gave details of the preparation work to ensure schools can fully reopen.

Mr O Foghlu said that the department recognises there will be a need for additional staff, adding that students coming out of teaching college this year will be “a main source”.

“We really have to look at new and different ways of doing substitution for teachers and potentially for SNAs (special needs assistants),” he added.

“We may also need to increase substitution because, at the moment, schools cover themselves for the first day of substitution for uncertified leave.

“That won’t be satisfactory to spread children to other classes.”

Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan asked Mr O Foghlu to give a figure of the additional staff needed.

“I feel there could be a significant amount of new people needed to keep up proper supervision and control and I think additional supervision is a huge issue,” Mr Durkan added.

Mr O Foghlu said the department does not yet have a “precise figure”.

“Across the sector in terms of different needs, and including cleaning, there will be a need for significant extra staffing to cover,” he added.

Mr O Foghlu also told the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee that there are “logistical challenges” to manage physical distancing arrangements, school transport and enhancing cleaning and hygiene routines.

“There are wellbeing aspects to be identified and provided for students, their families and staff,” he added.

“There are curricular challenges which are being worked on in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

“There are also assessment matters to consider in terms of the students undertaking State examinations in 2021 with the State Examinations Commission involved in this aspect.”

The committee also addressed issues around face masks on school transport.

The current health advice is that all children aged 13 and over should wear face masks while on school transport.

Mr O Foghlu said that staff who work within close quarters of transport will also be required to wear face visors.

Mr O Foghlu said that schools will not be required to fund the PPE.

“We are seeking to put in place tendering and draw down contract arrangements to enable any equipment to be more easily available for schools,” he added.

Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill also queried when guidelines would be published before schools reopen in the autumn.

Mr O Foghlu confirmed it would be by the end of July.

“We recognise that schools need time to prepare, and we will be working on a communications campaign when we finalise this work,” he added.

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