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Derry headmaster and staff teach in protective gear to prevent spread of coronavirus

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Michael Allen, principal of Lisneal College in Londonderry, wearing his personal protection equipment

Michael Allen, principal of Lisneal College in Londonderry, wearing his personal protection equipment

Erin Hutcheon with her son Henry (7) and daughter Amy Rose (16) on their first day of home schooling

Erin Hutcheon with her son Henry (7) and daughter Amy Rose (16) on their first day of home schooling

Michael Allen, principal of Lisneal College in Londonderry, wearing his personal protection equipment

A school principal has told how he and his staff are wearing personal protection equipment (PPE) because they are working on the assumption they have coronavirus and do not want to infect others.

Michael Allen, from Lisneal School in the Waterside area of Londonderry, said principals across Northern Ireland were working hard to protect staff and their families and be part of the movement that stops the spread of Covid-19.

While schools are now closed to the majority of pupils, children of key workers can still attend classes.

However, Mr Allen said he still had not been given any clear direction on how to keep children and staff safe.

He took the decision that staff should wear full PPE to stop passing Covid-19 to parents and children arriving at his school. Anyone coming into the building must do the same.

Mr Allen said: "Some people might think the PPE is over the top, but every surface has potentially been touched by 800 kids and we need to protect the people who are in here.

"We are being asked to put ourselves at a higher risk than anyone else at the minute, with the exception of hospital staff.

"I am coming into regular contact with healthcare workers, who are at the greatest risk obviously.

"My staff and I are working on the basis that we are all infected and we are now doing what we can to prevent ourselves from passing it on.

"There is no testing for us, so our mindset is not about not getting Covid-19 - it is about not passing it on."

Lisneal College is operating a skeleton staff to accommodate children whose parents are frontline health workers.

However, Mr Allen said he was frustrated that he had been left to make difficult choices.

He explained: "Schools want to do the right thing and I have a decision to make - do I want to be part of the movement to reduce the spread, help our health workers and do all the right things? The answer is yes.

"On the flip side, I have teachers and staff members who have elderly relatives and one staff member who has a relative who is a confirmed case. In fact, (I have) two on either side of the border.

"My choice is, do I protect individuals under my duty of care or do I open for the greater good? That is the decision principals are being asked to make. There has been no direction."

Meanwhile, parents of children who are continuing their education at home have said they are unsure how the situation will evolve.

Erin Hutcheon, from Derry, said the weeks ahead would be a testing time for her, her son Henry (7) and daughter Amy Rose (16).

She added: "Our biggest concern is about the level of uncertainty around GCSEs because our daughter Amy Rose was supposed to sit her exams, but now we don't know what's happening.

"We don't know whether it will be predictive grades or whether she will sit exams during the summer or even in the autumn.

"I would prefer it if they didn't use predictive grades because there won't be any motivation for the kids to keep working.

"I am trying to encourage Amy Rose to keep up with her studies. I have to say her school, St Mary's, has been great and has given us a lot of resources. She she is being encouraged to follow her usual timetable."

Mrs Hutcheon explained that home-schooling her son was proving more fraught.

"My son is only seven and he does need my help. He can't log in and see what work is for him, so I do that, but his school has also been very good," she said.

"I am now working from home, so I am doing my own work while trying to make sure their school work is done."

Belfast Telegraph