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Disaster warning: Teaching union calls for December school ‘circuit breaker’ after 1,000 off with Covid

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The union warned of potential disruption into the new year.

The union warned of potential disruption into the new year.

Justin McCamphill, Northern Official with teaching union NASUWT.

Justin McCamphill, Northern Official with teaching union NASUWT.

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The union warned of potential disruption into the new year.

A teaching union has called for Northern Ireland schools to be closed on or before December 15 with a Christmas “circuit breaker” introduced in a bid to tackle pressure in the sector.

Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said schools were facing “immense pressure,” revealing 1,072 staff have contracted Covid within schools in past four weeks.

He said the lack of staff available within schools was concerning and “disaster is about to happen”. He said the Executive had to step in.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

“We need the minister to actually use the powers that she has and direct what she wants to happen in schools,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.

“For example, many schools will still be having mass gatherings, they will be having open days, nativity plays. While nobody wants to cancel Christmas, these things can be moved online.

“I think there should be a circuit breaker over the Christmas period, I can see how taking a few days off at the end of December may help.

“The thing is it can only be part of a wider package, if we do it and then still allow everyone to mingle and socialise together over Christmas, we are actually going to be facing a worse situation in January. Schools can’t just be looked at in isolation.”

Last week, The National Association of Head Teachers last wrote to the Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to highlight concerns around staff shortages.

It urged the department to inform parents that schools may revert to remote learning again unless safe staffing levels can be secured.

The Department of Education has previously stated there are no plans to introduce “circuit breakers” in schools.

Mr McCamphill said many schools are already having to send home classes and explained he expects that to “build towards Christmas”.

“The Executive needs to step in. While it spreads in the community, once it gets into schools it really does spread,” he added.

“We are finding principals telling us they simply cannot get substitute teachers to cover absences. We have got to a situation where it is now spiralling out of control as there are not enough staff.

“We expect over the coming weeks that situation is going to get worse. Schhols are going to have to ration their resources that they have.

“We need the minister to actually use the powers that she has and direct what she wants to happen in schools.”

The Department of Education has been contacted for a response.


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