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Union: special schools 'entitled to protection too'


Caroline McCarthy

Caroline McCarthy

Caroline McCarthy

A teaching union has demanded to know why special schools in Northern Ireland are not being afforded the same safety approach in line with rest of the education sector.

Pupils with special needs are now continuing their education under revised safety measures as the number of Covid cases continues to rise.

Chair of the Northern Committee of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, Caroline McCarthy, said the lack of forward planning has left teachers feeling unprotected.

"The chaotic approach of the minister to the management of the pandemic at a system level could be easily averted by real steps to improve safety such as informed and timely communication with the workforce he is depending on," she said.

"Special school teaching and non-teaching staff have been ordered back into a school environment that the Minister himself has stated needed additional safety mitigations."

She said the only additional mitigation he has mentioned, compulsory face coverings in post primary schools, "does not apply to either of these settings".

"All staff in school are entitled to the protections necessary to keep them and the children in their classroom safe."

Meanwhile, a special educational needs teacher has said greater support is needed for staff. Tania Marshall, who teaches nursery-age children at Roddensvale School in Larne, said "no instruction" had been given other than to stay open.

Three staff members in the school's nursery have tested positive for coronavirus and the class has not been able to continue with lessons as normal.

She said requirements in SEN schools meant it was difficult for teachers and staff to socially distance from pupils and to wear PPE. "People who are talking don't have a knowledge of what we do in special schools," she said. "Our focus is making sure our children feel safe and secure - we can't do that wearing PPE, and we can't do that social-distancing."

Teaching union the NASUWT has launched a campaign calling for teaching staff to be prioritised for vaccination.

Education Minister Peter Weir has asked the Executive to prioritise school staff, making those in special schools first to be vaccinated if the proposal is approved.

Belfast Telegraph