A Co Down principal has spoken of his frustration over being forced to close his school for two days after being overwhelmed with applications to accommodate key workers’ children.
Killinchy Primary head teacher Chris Currie said he had “no choice” but to go against guidelines indicating that schools should offer spaces to children if they have one parent who is a key worker.
The Department of Education announced last week that schools should only remain open for pupils whose parents have been deemed as “essential workers”.
Mr Currie said it was initially understood that schools would only be staying open for pupils with two key worker parents, but Education Minister Peter Weir later clarified it was just one.
Afterwards, Killinchy Primary received around 70 requests from parents.
This forced Mr Currie to keep the school’s doors closed yesterday and Monday so he could re-do the application process and reduce the numbers. Parents were informed of the development last weekend, he added,
Mr Currie said it was frustrating that he had to take such action because of the high number of parents working in key roles.
“I had to reinstate the policy of only accepting children whose parents are both key workers,” he said.
“In Killinchy there are a large number of parents in key worker jobs, so there’s a lot of people there that need childcare. It was a perfect storm for me.”
He stressed that in addition to the high number of requests, he was also dealing with reducing staffing levels following government advice that those who are at a high risk of contracting Covid-19 should stay at home.
“The result of that was my available staff base was decimated,” he said.
“I had the double-edged sword of an increased flux of parents with the one key worker criteria and the complete decimation of my staff. I then issued a plea to parents saying, ‘Please if you really, really don’t need us, don’t use us. On that plea I got eight withdrawals, but it was still far, far too high.
“I couldn’t implement social distancing in the school. I couldn’t keep staff safe.
“On that basis I had no choice but to re-run the whole application process. I then issued exceptional closure notices for Monday and Tuesday to look at the two key worker criteria again.
“Those coming to school (today) are the children of blue-light workers and frontline medical workers.”
In all, Killinchy Primary is accommodating fewer than 30 pupils.
Mr Currie said Mr Weir understood why he had been forced to break with Department of Education policy.
“He understood that I had no option,” the primary school teacher added.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said it “is urgently looking at how we can help schools and would urge schools to work together at this time to provide a local solution for the supervision of children of key workers. We are encouraged that some schools are already doing this”.
They said the Department was carrying out a daily survey to identify issues and had Education Authority staff “on the ground to assist schools at this time”.