Government approves €370m back-to-school fund

Government approves €370m back-to-school fund
Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, and Minister of State Josepha Madigan TD, launching the Roadmap for Reopening Schools, subject to Cabinet approval.Picture: Julien Behal Photography

More than 1,000 extra primary school teachers, guidance counsellors, an enhanced cleaning regime, and supports to works at schools will be released as part of a major plan to reopen schools next month.

The Government agreed measures to ensure the safe and timely reopening of 4,000 schools for some one million pupils.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the most effective way to limit the spread of the virus in schools is to contain it in the community.

Mr Martin said this is “the most comprehensive” reopening plan for any sector so far.

While there is “no zero risk” plan, the coalition is doing everything in the education roadmap to protect students and teachers who are vulnerable.

The €375m plan includes:

  • An additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level at a cost of €53m
  • This includes 120 guidance posts provided to support student well-being
  • Teachers will be drawn from 2,000 registered teachers who are not working
  • An extra €85m for schools to employ replacement teaching staff, SNA and administrative staff.
  • €52m for schools to put in place enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools
  • €75m capital allocation to support schools to prepare their buildings and classrooms for reopening

Education Minister, Norma Foley, said the plan includes documentation for schools on training, and checklists for schools reopening safely — it also has advice on curriculum, teaching, managing school activities and supporting pupils with additional needs.

She said she believes that even where building works are needed, all schools will open on time at the end of August or in early September: “I do not envisage that there will be any delays.”

Substitute teachers will be resourced from the 2,000 who are registered but currently not working. There are also 1,300 teachers who are job-sharing but their hour limits will be lifted. Contracts, where replacements are needed, will be a year-long for primary school places. Another 300 teachers working in Britain will also be encouraged to come home.

There will also be different social distancing rules for students, with no restrictions for pupils below third-class. Distancing will be one-metre after that for primary pupils, who will be together in “class bubbles”.

In second-level, social distancing will be one-metre and two-metres where possible.

There will be specific rules for school transport with advice for students on not mingling while waiting for services.

Dedicated workers will intervene if there is an outbreak in a school. A suspected case would see a pupil brought to an isolated area, collected by parents and tested. In some scenarios, this could lead to an entire class being asked to self-isolate, Ms Foley confirmed. But that matter will be decided by health services. In such a scenario, resources will be made available for home-based learning, the Government says.

Ms Foley said she has consulted with different trade unions and has “every confidence” that people and teachers will engage with the plan.

Mr Martin said that the re-opening of schools will be a “significant milestone”. Schools have been closed since March 12 due to the pandemic.

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