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Reopening primary schools presents 'particular challenges', warn teachers

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Stock photo: Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Stock photo: Getty Images

Teachers' leaders have warned that any plans to reopen primary schools in May or June would present "very particular challenges".

Schools say they cannot reopen without very detailed planning about the practicalities of how it would work.

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Practicalities: INTO’s John Boyle called for working group to be set up

Practicalities: INTO’s John Boyle called for working group to be set up

Practicalities: INTO’s John Boyle called for working group to be set up

The Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) general secretary John Boyle has written to the Department of Education outlining a range of concerns.

It includes the ages of the 560,000 primary pupils - typically four to 12-year-olds, many of whom would have difficulty maintaining distancing protocols.

Mr Boyle also points to the number of parents who gather near schools at the beginning and end of the school day, the size of classes, and the congregation of pupils in school playgrounds.

Another factor raised by the union is the many different types and sizes of schools, with a clear implication that it will not be a case of 'one size fits all'.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris have expressed hopes of a limited reopening of schools, although they have not put a timescale on it.

Even a staggered return will hinge on public health advice, but when that comes, schools say doors cannot reopen without prior input from principals and teachers about what will be possible.

Mr Boyle has called for a special working group to be set up as soon as possible, to deal exclusively with the practicalities of reopening.

The INTO general secretary said there was a need for a small group and very focussed work stream in the weeks leading up to any reopening of primary schools, even a partial or phased reopening.

He said they want to plan for a "safe and orderly return".

The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) is also seeking a dedicated working group to deal with the issue.

IPPN CEO Páiric Clerkin said it "would be adamant that any reopening has to be very carefully planned and co-ordinated. We cannot dream of opening schools until we have this very detailed planning worked out".

"Every parent is going to look for reassurance from school leaders at local level and will expect all the answers and plans in place, and every parent will deserve an answer to all of their queries," he said.

The only group of students about whom there has been any discussion about a return to school is the 61,000 Leaving Cert candidates, with Education Minister Joe McHugh expressing a hope that they can be back in classrooms for two weeks in mid-July, ahead of the proposed start of the exams on July 29.

Mr Clerkin said "we haven't seen plans yet" for this group and that would be the starting point in terms of what school reopening might look like. But he also noted that while these students were adults, primary schools were dealing with children as young as four and five.

The IPPN chief also referred to vulnerable children and the need to ensure their safety when schools reopened "and that cannot happen without very definite planning, where we anticipate all of the challenges that all of the schools will face".

Irish Independent