The return to school today comes with additional support for primary school principals to deal with the growing problem of finding replacements to replace absent teachers.
schools reopen in a difficult landscape amid concern over increasing Covid cases, with the highest incidence among children aged five to 12.
The spread of the disease will put pressure on schools in the days and weeks to come.
Some struggled with high workloads leading up to the Halloween holidays.
And there were tensions as the education ministry ordered the reopening of two schools, which had made the decision to close due to epidemics.
Ahead of the return to class, Education Minister Norma Foley said she understood antigen testing could be used “in special cases” in schools.
The matter is currently under consideration by Nphet.
Meanwhile, new measures to address the substitution shortage in the primary sector include the creation of an additional 100 permanent positions on panels to provide schools with submarines, while third-level colleges are urged to maximize the availability of student teachers to fill in the gaps in the classrooms.
Significant levels of unplanned teacher absences reported before midterm were linked to public health guidelines advising people to stay home if they had symptoms and principals struggling to fill in gaps.
Earlier in the pandemic, principals were free to use special education teachers to replace an absent regular teacher.
But since September 27, the Ministry of Education has asked them to give up.
However, while the new alternative supply measures are in place, it is expected that schools will continue to use special education teachers in the event of an emergency.
The principals had warned before the mid-term break that the situation of the substitutes was so bad that they risked having to send the classes home. Discussions on the issue took place between the department and education stakeholders, resulting in a circular sent to primary schools when they reopened, outlining the strengthened provisions.
Although Ms Foley denied a few weeks ago that there was a sub-crisis, the circular acknowledges “that there is currently particular pressure in this area due to Covid-19” and states that the news arrangements have been made for the remainder of the 2021/22 school year.
There are already 380 substitute teachers on panels serving 2,500 of the country’s 3,200 primary schools, covering unforeseen or short-term absences.
The 100 additional positions, an increase of more than 25%, will be available in areas where significant challenges have been demonstrated in terms of supply substitution.
Higher education institutions were also urged to be flexible with student teachers to facilitate their availability for sub-work and to communicate with post-primary master’s students to inform them of the availability of sub-work. in primary schools.
The circular allows job-sharing teachers to work extra days to cover vacant positions in their own school and others, as well as further relaxation of restrictions on career-break teachers performing underwork .
The Irish National Teachers’ Organization (INTO) welcomed the additional measures that had been negotiated.
While the new measures provide some relief, education stakeholders are adopting a wait-and-see approach.
The department says it will continue to keep the issue under review in collaboration with stakeholders.