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Mid-term break could be extended by a week as teachers call for clarity

Impact on parents and child welfare are among chief concerns


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Parents, teachers and business leaders have demanded clarity over the suggestion the October mid-term break could be extended to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The impact on working parents and child welfare were among their chief concerns.

Schools are due to close from Monday, October 26 to Friday, October 30, but senior Coalition sources say a proposal to add an extra week has been discussed briefly.

No decision has been made and the Department of Education is playing down the idea, pointing out that the public health advisory body, Nphet, is "recommending that schools remain open at the present time, even in the current ­trajectory of the disease".

After a day of speculation, there was no mention of the topic at last night's meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee for Covid-19.

Ahead of the meeting, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said: "That proposal hasn't been put to me yet." He added: "Before I make a decision on it I would like to understand what would be the consequences of it within our schools and what's the public health rationale for doing it."


Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council says schools should stay open. Photo: Maxwells

Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council says schools should stay open. Photo: Maxwells

Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council says schools should stay open. Photo: Maxwells

Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (Isme) chief executive Neil McDonnell said there was "no justification whatsoever" for extending the break.

"It will place an enormous burden in childcare on people and businesses who are already under a great deal of economic stress," he told the Irish Independent. "We would view this very seriously and negatively if it were even contemplated by Government."

National Parents Council Primary chief executive Áine Lynch highlighted the impact closing schools could have on children, who are just settling back into a normal routine.

The council is opposed to any extension of the break, unless there was an evidence-based reason to do so. "Children, and we are looking at the primary sector here, children's returning to school has been really positive for them," she said.

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"If there was any specific evidence that the spread of Covid-19 was happening in schools we may take a different approach. But all of the briefings from the chief medical officer say that's not the case.

"We feel strongly that schools should stay open as much as possible. Children are getting back into a routine. It has been really good for them, reconnecting with school, with their friends, with their teachers - it has been really beneficial."

She said talk of the plan seems to contradict the Government's position of wanting to keep schools open. "We would want to see clear evidence (that Covid-19 is spreading in schools) before we would reconsider our position.

Karen Clince, chief executive of Tigers Childcare, echoed concerns about the welfare of the very young. She said: "It would be remiss of us to ignore what we are observing on the ground when it comes to the impact of the last lockdown and ongoing restrictions on the social and emotional development of our children.

"What we are seeing is more severe than we'd anticipated. In pre-pandemic times, for every group of new babies or toddlers starting with us, it was normal to see two (children) finding it difficult to settle and needing extra one-on-one supports in order to feel comfortable.

"However, since we reopened after lockdown, this has increased fourfold, with eight out of every 10 experiencing great difficulty settling.

Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Micheal Gillespie said education stakeholders must be fully consulted in any such move to allow for disruption to regular school business to be planned for. Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle said the INTO agreed and also called for an urgent review of the public health advice on schools to determine the measures needed when the level of infection is very high in a community. He also sought clarity on the status of schools at Level 5.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called for "clarity" while Labour Education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said school communities need certainty.

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