Some schools in Northern Ireland are sending whole year groups home because of staff shortages caused by Covid, a teachers’ union has said.
NASUWT national official for Northern Ireland Justin McCamphill has called on all schools to cancel mass gatherings over Christmas amid growing concern over a lack of available substitute teachers.
He also said the Department of Education may need to consider a circuit-breaker closure of schools to stop the spread of the virus.
However, a spokesperson for the Department of Education has said there are no plans to close schools early for the Christmas period.
There is a shortage now of substitute teachers and many schools are having to send classes or whole year groups homeJustin McCamphill
The BBC has reported that two schools, Belfast Boys Model and Lisneal College in Londonderry, have moved some pupils to remote learning due to staff shortages.
Mr McCamphill said: “Over the last 28 days 1,072 school staff have contracted Covid.
“On top of that there are teachers who will be self-isolating, who may have to look after their own children and we are also into the normal flu season.
“The system would normally cope with normal colds and flus but there is a shortage now of substitute teachers and many schools are having to send classes or whole year groups home.”
The union official called for clear instructions for schools on how to prevent the spread of Covid.
He added: “All mass gatherings should be cancelled.
“We know there are schools still planning open nights, open days, carol services.
“We think we have to decide, do we want these peripheral events or do we want teachers in schools teaching children?
“I think the department needs to keep a circuit breaker under review.
“They should be monitoring the number of teachers in schools and they will have to make an assessment as to whether schools can be kept safely open.”
A Department of Education spokesperson said: “There are no plans to close schools early for the Christmas period.
“Any decision to do so would be taken by the Executive and would be based on medical and scientific advice.
“We all know that the best place for children in terms of mental health, wellbeing and education is in school.”
The spokesperson added: “Departmental guidance requires schools to continue to implement a range of mitigations to reduce the risk of Covid-19.
“The department is aware of the pressures schools have been facing throughout the pandemic and the difficulties faced by some schools in securing appropriate cover as a result of staff absence.
“We are actively considering how best to support schools in responding to the issues they currently face and are liaising with DoH colleagues while continuing to follow medical and scientific advice.”