| 6.6°C Dublin

'It has been shambolic'- Head of teachers' union blasts tracing in schools


Close

Deserted: A woman walks through an empty street in Galway yesterday as case numbers continue to rise around the country. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Deserted: A woman walks through an empty street in Galway yesterday as case numbers continue to rise around the country. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Deserted: A woman walks through an empty street in Galway yesterday as case numbers continue to rise around the country. Photo: Reuters/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation John Boyle has said that tracking, testing and surveillance of Covid-19 in primary schools has been “shambolic”.

Delays in contact tracing and testing in school communities are key concerns and teacher unions are demanding a step-up in protective measures if schools are to reopen after the mid-term break.

The week-long Halloween holiday, starting on Friday, provides breathing space for the education system as other sections of society are forced into lockdown.

Covid transmission rates within schools remain low when compared with the broader community, and the Department of Education said yesterday that this "supports other evidence that schools are safe environments".

But teacher union leaders report growing anxiety levels among their members in the face of the rise in community infection rates and the increase in the number of ­positive tests in schools.

This morning, the General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation John Boyle said that tracking, testing and surveillance of Covid-19 in primary schools has been “shambolic”.

Mr Boyle said that he “cannot be convinced” by Micheál Martin’s comments that children will be returning to safe schools after Halloween.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Boyle said: “I cannot be convinced by Micheál Martin’s comments last night that children will be returning after Halloween to safe schools. It is of course vital that childrens’ education continue, but it is even more vital to their families that they remain safe.

“Will parents put their children on the bus? [Regarding] teachers who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions, will doctors allow them to go back to classrooms where the virus is so high in their community that Dr Colm Henry said that it poses a great threat to schools a few days ago?

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

“The government has eight of nine days now to convince me and to convince everyone in national education and special schools that the shambolic approach of public health to the tracking, testing and the surveillance of our sector is going to be sorted out before the first Monday in November,” Mr Boyle said.

Mr Boyle said he did not know how many teachers and pupils had been infected and people had been “left stressed to the gills” while waiting for contact tracing to be done. Mr Boyle said some schools are waiting up to two weeks for this to be done.

“In that school that is waiting for the contact tracing to be done; you have up to 60 people stressed to the gills because nobody knows anything about who was infected, who was in contact with them or for how long.

“I stand over my comments that it has been shambolic to date. There will be respite though as schools are closed next week and thankfully Nphet are meeting us today. I am prepared to work for the next nine days solid to ensure that schools are safe but we need public health to step up to the plate,” Mr Boyle insisted.

A school in Co Meath told parents on Sunday night that it was closing yesterday following a number of cases of Covid-19.

It is the HSE's job to decide what action to take in the event of a confirmed case in a school, but the school board of management said it was not able to contact the HSE.

The Department of Education would not comment on an individual case but reiterated that "decisions in respect of closure are a matter for public health authorities".

Meanwhile, teacher unions are seeking a reassessment of the risk to staff and students ahead of the reopening after the mid-term break.

Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Michael Gillespie said they have stated at all times that they will be guided by the public health advice, but a detailed rationale based on the most up-to-date evidence was a necessity.

Among the TUI concerns is the definition of 'close contacts' in schools, while he said "delays in both testing and in receiving results are making the day-to-day running of schools extremely difficult".

He said teachers could be out for three or four days awaiting results.

"If we are being deemed an essential service, we need ­supports," he said.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland is balloting members on potential industrial action, if they are not satisfied with the level of protection in schools.

After the Cabinet decided to move to Level 5 restrictions yesterday, Education Minister Norma Foley spoke to union leaders to offer reassurance and to express a willingness to engage with them on their concerns.


Most Watched





Privacy