Schoolchildren will be given greater access to counsellors and child psychologists as part of a comprehensive plan to reopen schools from the end of August.
ducation Minister Norma Foley is tomorrow due to unveil the detailed measures that will be put in place to allow all primary and secondary schools to reopen next month - nearly seven months after they were shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The plan will include extra funding for guidance counsellors and the National Educational Psychological Service in the wake of the pandemic which saw the traditional Junior and Leaving Certificate exams cancelled.
Around €75m will be made available under the minor works grant scheme to help primary and post-primary schools adapt their classrooms for social distancing and improve their toilet facilities, while more than €45m is on offer for enhanced cleaning measures. The Department of Education will centrally procure all hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment and distribute it to schools.
Generally, teachers and students will not be advised or required to wear face masks but they will be allowed to do so if they wish and the advice will differ in the case of special schools.
Schools will also receive extra funding for additional substitute teachers ahead of an anticipated increase in sick leave, while there will also be curriculum changes to allow students a greater choice in State exams.
Teachers' Union of Ireland general secretary John MacGabhann said it is important the plan to reopen schools is sustainable, and does not eventually lead to a pattern of school closures because of Covid-19 outbreaks.
He said teachers currently working part-time could be used to cover additional hours in cases where colleagues are unavailable due to illness or isolation.
"What we are attempting to do with the department and the other partners is to ensure we have arrangements that are workable not just on day one, but are sustainable. We don't want to arrive at a situation where not long after being back at school, you have a domino pattern of school closures. You want to avoid that," MacGabhann said.
Meanwhile, research by the ESRI shows teachers suffered heightened stress and anxiety responding to the Covid-19 crisis and coping with extra workloads. It also shows many principals and senior staff felt overwhelmed managing issues for colleagues, students and parents without receiving the support they needed.
It raises new concerns about teaching staff and principals as schools return. ESRI professor Selina McCoy said teacher well-being has still not been addressed.
"As the start of the next academic year draws closer, and uncertainty over what the school will look like on a day-to-day basis lingers, it is vital that school leaders think about and plan for their own well-being within general plans for reopening schools," she said.
"With the potential for a long period of disruption ahead, the ad hoc reactive response which was so effective from March to June simply will not be sustainable for schools or school leaders."
She said the ESRI study showed school leaders were concerned about a lack of guidance through the crisis.
'Learning for all? Second-level education during Covid-19 in Ireland' shows how respondents to the survey said uncertainty around the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations was a particular cause of stress.
Teachers and principals looking ahead to the return of schooling said they were determined to come back "as close to 'business as usual' as possible", according to the study.
It also said senior figures in schools expressed a "need for centralised guidelines to guide decision-making" and "flexibility" to use their own judgment to respond to the crisis in their area as they see fit.
However, it made clear school leaders feel they will require a range of supports. "These will include resources for ICT, professional development, Covid-19 management supports and well-being supports. For students entering sixth year, measures will also need to be put into place to maximise teaching time in examination subjects," it says.