IPPN welcomes plans for the full reopening of schools and seeks further clarity on a number of key issues

Tuesday 28th July 2020

IPPN welcomes the announcement by Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, of plans for a full reopening of school buildings for the 2020/21 school year. It is the sincere wish of all school principals and deputy principals to see all pupils and staff back engaged with face-to-face teaching and learning in safe and stimulating classrooms.

The announcement of this package with less than five weeks to go to the new term means there is a huge amount of work to be done to have all the necessary provisions in place and adjustments made to have schools ready for reopening. IPPN has worked tirelessly along with other education partners to ensure all issues essential to the safe reopening of school buildings and grounds are identified and addressed. We are pleased to say that many issues have been addressed in Minister Foley’s announcement, while answers will continue to be sought on any remaining issues.

IPPN welcomes the announcement of one leadership and management day per week for teaching principals, which has for many years been IPPN’s key priority. Teaching principals need this time on a permanent basis, but we very much welcome the additional leadership time for the coming school year as they deal with COVID-19 risk management on top of an extremely challenging workload. We also welcome the announcement of ‘release’ days for deputy principals in schools where there is an administrative principal, as an acknowledgment of shared leadership and management in our schools, particularly in this time of unprecedented challenge.

 

The establishment of substitute supply panels across the country for the 2020/21 school year is a positive step. We have concerns, however, that 200 posts distributed across these panels will fall far short of meeting the demand, due to the necessity of teachers to absent themselves from work where any trace of potential coronavirus symptoms are evident. To increase the amount of substitute cover available, the Department should consider allowing PME students to work as substitute teachers when a vacancy arises in the schools where they are completing teaching practice. Clarity in also required in relation to teachers who work across multiple schools, to minimise the potential for cross-contamination.

Every school community will be seeking to ensure that their school operates in a way that is safe and reassuring for pupils, staff, and parents. Ongoing advice and support will be required from the HPSC as schools come to terms with operating class ‘bubbles’ and pods within them, particularly in 3rd to 6th classes, especially in cases where class numbers are large and there are small or off-standard classrooms.

IPPN sought extra financial aid towards cleaning, hygiene materials, and PPE for schools and acknowledges the provision of €40 million and the procurement framework to meet the extra demands as a result of Coronavirus. We would urge that this be monitored on an on-going basis to guarantee that it is sufficient to meet the demands of schools in complying with best-practice regulations. Grant aid towards the employment of an aide to assist with the preparation of schools for a safe return is also welcome.

IPPN had highlighted the extra challenges faced by special schools and schools with special classes and are pleased to acknowledge the plan to employ extra NEPS psychologists to support children for whom the return to the school environment will be especially challenging. We also acknowledge the enhanced per capita and Covid-19 rates payable in respect of students in special settings towards the provision of necessary supports and the extra costs of cleaning in areas of specialist provision. One leadership and management day per week for teaching principals in special schools and 16 release days per year for Deputy Principals of Special schools with an admin principal are also welcome.

Last week’s announcement of €33 million towards a doubling of the Minor Works Grant is welcome. We look forward to more details on the procurement of PPE supplies which, considering the time frame, is urgently needed at this stage by schools anxious to have all safety measures in place for the welfare of pupils and staff.

According to IPPN President Damian White:

‘We have worked very hard with our education partners to support and advise the Department of Education over the past few months on what was needed to bring about a safe school return. We welcome this announcement, albeit later than we had hoped it would come. We highlighted many issues in our submission and most are addressed or are in the process of being sorted. We will continue to press for solutions to remaining issues and to work together with our education partners to achieve workable solutions. IPPN continues to work as normal throughout the summer and will support all school leaders through this time of unprecedented challenge’.

IPPN is operating its Leadership Support service as normal during the summer and is available to support members with their queries and concerns. IPPN has prepared guidance documents and templates for school leaders as they prepare to welcome back staff and students in late August.

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