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Ireland
Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Norma Foley admits return to schools has been challenging with record staff absences and poor ventilation

Minister for Education Norma Foley has acknowledged that there have been some challenges associated with the return to schools this week as principals report record staff absences due to Covid-19-related illnesses and poor ventilation in classrooms. Speaking on the Anton Savage Show, Ms. Foley said that “These days in education are not without challenge”.

Ms. Foley added that this issue is not just exclusive to the present situation but that it has been an issue throughout the entire pandemic. Teachers have reportedly been keeping windows open due to poor ventilation in classrooms, causing students issues regarding their learning.

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Accepting that there were particular challenges, Foley said they are equally stating, in terms of opening windows in classrooms, that there is very clear guidance to open them before class, after class and to a lesser extent when the room is empty. School heating can equally be combated as she added that schools are well resourced in terms of putting the heating on at its maximum.

Financial issues regarding heating can also be combated with Ms. Foley stating that the Department of Education can be contacted about the issue and that the money is available there. The Department of Education has also helped with the facilitation of 38,000 C02 monitors in schools and developed technical teams to help schools overcome issues.

For specific and demanding issues, Ms. Foley urged schools to contact their local engineer or architect who has a particular familiarity with the school. Ms Foley also explained why issues continue to arise from schools, stating that we are still in the midst of a pandemic that will present unique challenges while adding, “That will always be the way.”

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Students have suffered major implications as a result of Covid-19 with vast numbers of staff being unable to attend work due to illness related to Covid-19. As a result, principals are placed under immense pressure to find substitutes and in some cases, they resort to posting on social media if anyone is available to teach that day as a substitute teacher.

In situations where students had no substitution available, the principal would have to take the class or one of the Special Education Teachers. In more severe scenarios where neither option was available such as the principal already taking one class and the Special Education Teachers also being booked up, entire classes would be sent home as a result.

This was unbeneficial to all students as they would miss out on an entire day of learning, as well as students who were in special education as their teachers were sent to take care of other classrooms which also sparked some controversy regarding the priorities associated with Special Education Teaching.

There has been some criticism aimed at the Government for reopening schools last week with a recent poll conducted by Independent/Ireland Thinks revealing that 60% of respondents were in favour of the Government’s decision to reopen schools with 34% disagreeing and 6% unsure. However, the same poll also revealed that 51% of respondents did not believe that the reopening was handled well with 36% saying that it was and 12% were undecided.

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