It’s carry on regardless for schools next week, with all children expected back in the classroom for face to face teaching despite the growing number of positive Covid cases in the community.
With no changes made to restrictions by the NI Executive following their meeting on Thursday afternoon, teaching unions met with the Department of Education and Education Authority on Friday morning, before notifying members there would be “no change in the plans for schools”.
That, said teaching unions, will lead to further class closures with pupils being sent home from school.
And despite a call from the Department for retired teachers to step forward to help address the shortage of substitute teachers, it’s understood the uptake has been “very slow”.
Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official, said the staffing crisis needs to be urgently addressed.
“With over 7000 cases per day it is inevitable that schools will be understaffed when they reopen for the new term,” he said.
“At the very least the Minister should have followed the example of the Welsh Education system and allocated two days at the beginning of the year for schools to prepare for what will be a very difficult situation.
“Teachers are concerned that not enough is being done to keep schools safe. Since PHA changed the definition of a school close contact Covid has spread like wildfire through schools and there are real fears as to how schools will cope with multiple teaching and support staff having to self-isolate,” he said.
The National Association of Head Teachers contacted all members on Friday,
“We asked again that the Minister consider redeploying staff from elsewhere across the system,” the union’s circular said.
“There has been a very low expression of interest from retired teachers to return to classrooms.
“We remind members that classroom assistants should not be used to provide cover for absent teachers. A classroom assistant can legitimately be asked to supervise in an emergency situation and only for a short-term period until another arrangement can be made (either with a substitute teacher or a class closure).
“The Minister has acknowledged, however, that if a school is unable to maintain a safe level of staffing because of the impossibility of acquiring substitute teaching staff, the above arrangements are legitimate.”
On Friday, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, Mark Browne, wrote to all school principals outlining the current situation.
“We have a shared objective to keep schools safe and open as we all know that the best place for our children and young people is in school,” he said.
“Thursday’s Executive meeting did not make any changes to the additional restrictions announced before Christmas and there is no change to the operation of schools and education settings from the autumn term.”
Schools have been urged to “take a cautious approach” to indoor gatherings and only hold events “where necessary.”
The department said around 95% of schools have now received Co2 monitors with 5,000 more expected next week.