'Significant' number of substitute teachers will be needed to cover Covid-19 absences

'Significant' number of substitute teachers will be needed to cover Covid-19 absences

The funding for schools to cover the costs associated with complying with public health advice must be approved quickly, the national teachers union has warned.

Significant funding will be necessary for the new school year, the Oireachtas Covid-19 response committee heard on Friday.

This will not just be to cover the additional cleaning costs schools will have, but also to cover the costs of substituting teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in the event of absences, which are expected to increase, and for additional supports for school leaders. 

The Department of Education is currently preparing cost estimates, Sean Ó Foghlú, general secretary, told the committee. 

However, he could not put a precise number on how many substitute teachers and additional staff would be necessary but he expects it to be "significant".

The department is also working with Bus Éireann as there will be a need for physical distancing measures on school buses, he added. Students are not expected to need PPE or wear masks when they return to the classroom, he said, adding that older children might have to wear masks on school transport. This is in line with the current public health advice. 

Responses to a tender on providing schools with PPE and cleaning equipment are currently being considered. 

"With only seven weeks to go, schools need clarity, guidance and funding to be put in place quickly," a spokesman for the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said. 

The union recognises the commitment given that all remaining guidance around reopening schools will be provided to schools by the end of July, he added. 

The current health advice to teachers and students is to not attend school if they have any symptoms of respiratory infection. This represents a change in culture, Mr Ó Foghlú told the committee, adding it will be necessary to keep infection out of schools. 

The INTO has called on the department to offer certainty around how absences will be managed. 

“In formal engagement, the INTO has set out the need for a well organised approach to substitutable cover, release days for teaching principals, and the funding needed for schools to comply with the public health guidance set out," they said.

"While the commitment by the Department of Education and Skills on these issues is reassuring, it is imperative that the Department of Finance approves the necessary funding quickly so that the recruitment process can begin." 

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