Education Politics

Aontu Disappointed at Failure to Prevent Staff Shortage and High Rate of School Absence

Aontú Education Spokesperson expresses frustration and disappointment at failure to act in order to prevent the current staff shortage and high rate of school absence, which have led to pleading for all available staff and calls for Circuit Breakers.

“At the beginning of September, principals and school staff found themselves swamped with administrations of contact tracing for pupils in schools. Very quickly realising this could not continue, unions stepped in and asked the government for support. From 10th September schools were no longer responsible for contact tracing as the Public Health Agency were taking over this task. In the early days, upon notification from a parent/guardian of a child testing positive with COVID, principals waited patiently to learn who and how many close contacts of said children would be identified within classes. Gradually they learned, this would no longer resemble the detailed and systematic process which they completed. Along with this of course came the change in guidance which would encourage members of  a household to continue to attend school upon negative test results, when a member of that household tested positive. Unions continued to call for a more robust system, to highlight the strain placed on the school communities and difficulties in obtaining substitute teachers, however that call fell again and again, on deaf ears.

Now here we are, less than three months later with schools stretched to the maximum. As a result of the lack of support and unwillingness to act, Unions have now been left with only two options: appeal to every teacher out there who is available outside the school environment to make themselves available to cover teacher who are either isolating or ill with COVID and to call for a ‘circuit breaker’ in order to prepare for the expectation of more ill or isolating staff therefore making it impossible to carry on as normal.

The public must be reminded neither of these options were in any way desirable for school staff. Had adjustments been made when originally requested there is a very high likelihood we would not be in this diar mess.

Exactly where in all of this, are the government protecting the mental health, wellbeing and education of our children? Only a few short weeks ago, schools received allocations of money to spend before March on the wellbeing of the pupils. Instructing children to stay at home earlier or longer than planned, even considering remote learning and repeating the very process that brought us to allocations for ‘Engage’ and ‘Wellbeing’  would be the equivalent to firing that much-needed money down the drain. An earlier closure date would not be quite so daunting if all involved had an assurance that pupils will return to class after Christmas within early/mid January and not to return to remite learning.

Yet again, we find ourselves in a situation which was very much preventable, had government officials listened to the professionals, the bodies on the ground. Were these officials pupils themselves, there would be an expectation to have learned from your mistakes by now, to engage upon request and collaborate. Aontú call upon these officials to engage with all stakeholders immediately; schools staff, parents and pupils views are central to these decisions. All further risks to the education and wellbeing of our children must be called out and halted at every turn.”


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