'Gigantic challenge' to prepare schools for return of students

'Gigantic challenge' to prepare schools for return of students
ASTI is calling for extra staff and facilities so that schools can reopen safely in September. Stock image 

Getting secondary schools ready for the return of students in September will be a “gigantic challenge”, the president of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) has said.

ASTI wants extra facilities to be supplied as well as extra staff to be employed, because of Covid-19, but there is very little time for the preparations to be completed.

“It will be a gigantic challenge,” said ASTI president Deirdre Mac Donald, when she spoke about preparations on RTÉ radio.

Ms Mac Donald said members who are in management had worked hard alongside general teachers in getting schools ready. However, they are facing a “mighty challenge” and she does not want them to be “rushed” into opening the schools, she added.

Ms Mac Donald said it might take “another few days” to make sure that teachers and students are returning to a safe environment where everybody knows the routine.

"If it took another two to three days, so be it, rather than piling them in and stacking them high on day one.

“Let everybody get back safely and securely and feel at home with it, and that’s in line with wellbeing for both workers and students,” she said.

Ms Mac Donald said the union had not seen the plan but had made a list of its demands so that members and students could return to school safely.

“And that will take a very, very significant investment,” she said.

Ms Mac Donald said they were in this position because Ireland was last out of 35 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of expenditure on education.

“So we’ve been grossly underfunded; we have the most crowded classes in Europe, so now all of this under-investment is now coming home to roost.” 

She said they are “very hopeful” that their demands would be met. These are built around the safety of students and teachers, with the physical infrastructure ensuring a one-metre distance between students and two metres between teachers and students.

Ms Mac Donald said staffing is another issue with class sizes the largest in Europe and, because of Covid-19, classes would have to be split and this would mean more staffing requirements. There would also be pressure on staffing with teachers having to stay at home if they are ill.

She said the aim is to have schools open five days a week but that could change if, for example, there is a virus outbreak, because they would only operate in line with the public health advice.

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