Thursday 17 January 2019

Flu crisis and substitute teacher shortage will cause the 'perfect storm' as schools return

  • Lack of substitute teachers means no cover for sickness

  • Parents told to keep children affected by virus away from class

The disruption for schools will be severe if the flu crisis continues for a prolonged period. Stock Image: Getty Images
The disruption for schools will be severe if the flu crisis continues for a prolonged period. Stock Image: Getty Images
Simon Harris says children with flu should stay at home. Photo: Damien Eagers

Caroline Crawford

The flu crisis coupled with the ongoing substitute shortage will cause the 'perfect storm' for schools, principals have warned.

David Ruddy, president of the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN), said the number of available substitute teachers dropped dramatically in recent months. A text register of available substitute teachers around the country for this week showed it was 200 down on the same time last year.

Mr Ruddy said teachers could feel under pressure to return to work despite feeling ill as a result of the substitution crisis.

His concerns were echoed by Peter Mullan of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (Into), who said it feared the flu crisis would severely affect teachers.

Teachers groups have advised members to follow the advice of the HSE and remain at home if they suffer any symptoms of flu.

They are also urging parents to keep children at home to avoid the spread of the influenza, echoing a call made by Health Minister Simon Harris last week.

But the disruption for schools will be severe if the flu crisis continues for a prolonged period.

Mr Ruddy said between "the substitute crisis and now with the flu we've found ourselves in a perfect storm".

He said the body was working on getting short-term measures in place to alleviate the problem. This would include lifting the limit of 90 days working for teachers on a career break, lifting on a temporary basis the five-day limit on unqualified people including trainee teachers and easing the requirements on fully qualified teachers from abroad for conditional registration.

"We in IPPN are really worried about the availability of substitutes. Teachers are going to get sick. If you are in a class of 30 and 10 of them are sneezing, within the whole school setup it's rife for infection. We don't have enough subs as it is without this flu crisis," he added.

Mr Mullan said his organisation was concerned that the flu crisis would severely affect teachers.

"We are keeping the situation under review and hoping it doesn't get worse. The advice is very, very clear to teachers - stay at home. If you have suspected flu you should remain at home for five days from when the symptoms began and that's very clear.

"We are in the middle of a substitute crisis for the past number of months, where subs are just not available and teachers are very aware of this. So some teachers with flu will probably try and go in," he added.

Mr Mullan said in light of the "severe substitute crisis" the body was keeping a close eye on how the flu might affect schools.

"We are keeping it under review. We would have concern that this could potentially impact on schools but I think if everybody follows the advice, particularly if parents follow the advice and keep children at home, we can manage this," he said.

"We also recognise that parents are under pressure with regard to childminding and that it can be very difficult for them to get cover for a sick child.

"But the advice to parents is keep the children at home if they are showing signs of it because it will only make the situation worse."

The lack of teachers is said to be due to a number of factors - unequal pay, irregular work and the fact that Irish teachers are in demand all over the world.

"We've huge recruitment of Irish teachers all over the world but particularly in the Middle East," Mr Mullan added.

Irish Independent

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