Reopening of Schools 2021/22

Updated 30th November 2021

Terms and Conditions

Health, Safety and Welfare at Work

Curriculum and Examinations

 

Terms and Conditions

(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing the necessary funding for reopening of schools?

(A) The Government has confirmed that the funding provided to support schools in the 2020/2021 school year will be maintained.


(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing the additional teaching posts to support social distancing requirements necessary for reopening of schools?

(A) Yes. During consultations with the Department of Education in July 2020, the ASTI demanded that extra teaching appointments be made to support schools in adhering to social distancing requirements and to break down large classes. Ireland’s pupil-teacher ratio at second-level is above the EU average; this means class sizes are larger.

The Roadmap for the Full Return to School published by the Department of Education announced plans for an additional 1,080 teaching posts at post-primary level, to include the following measures:

  • 120 guidance posts will be provided to support student wellbeing
  • An initial allocation of over 600 posts to be made available to post-primary schools
  • Remaining posts will be used to support those post-primary schools experiencing particular difficulties to reopen fully and adhere to physical distancing and class sizes.

These posts are allocated based on school type to reflect enrolments and special education provision, along with a reserve of posts to support schools who have specific identified needs in implementing COVID-19 measures.
ASTI has been advised that these additional supports will remain in place for the 2021/2022 school year.


(Q) The Covid-19 Response Plan for each school must be revised as part of the arrangements for reopening of schools for the 2021/2022 school year. Has information been provided for schools to assist in this process?

(A) Yes. A revised COVID-19 response plan has been issued to schools. The new template reflects the information in the Government’s Recovery and Resilience: The Path Ahead plan and the Work Safely Protocol. The new template, COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable operation of Post Primary Schools,  can be accessed here

The purpose of the school COVID-19 Response Plan is to provide clear guidance for safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in schools.

ASTI has been proactive in seeking the inclusion of clarity on the infection prevention and control measures to minimise the risk of COVID-19 for school communities.

The approach to COVID-19 in schools is led by the advice and guidance of HSE Public Health. Public Health has stated that the current new variants of the disease do not change the infection prevention and control measures required in schools. In that context, ASTI has insisted that schools should continue to operate the arrangements that were in place during the last school term when they reopen.


(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools?

(A) Yes. During consultations with the Department of Education in July 2020, ASTI demanded that additional supervision resources which will be necessary for the successful reopening of schools be put in place.

The Roadmap for the Full Return to School published by the Department of Education on 27th July announced an estimated additional cost of €40m to provide post-primary schools with additional supervision of students. This will be allocated to schools on a sliding scale to reflect enrolments.

ASTI has been advised that these additional supports will remain in place for the 2021/2022 school year.


(Q) What additional arrangements are being put in place to support the enhanced cleaning in schools that will be required for the 2021/2022 school year?

(A) The Department of Education has committed to continue to provide additional funding to schools to support the enhanced cleaning required to minimise the risks of COVID-19.


(Q) Is the Department of Education making any provision to support all students, particularly those with special educational needs or suffering from disadvantage, in what are very challenging times?

(A) During consultations with the Department of Education, ASTI insisted that students should be given greater access to guidance counsellors and child psychologists as part of the schools reopening initiative. We argued for the employment of extra guidance counsellors and that the National Educational Psychological Service be further resourced to provide a comprehensive service to schools.

The Roadmap for the Full Return to School issued by the Department of Education in 2020 provided for the appointment of 17 additional educational psychologists to the National Educational Psychological Service.

These additional appointments remain in place.

120 additional guidance counsellors were also employed in 2020. These additional appointments, albeit insufficient from an ASTI perspective, remain in place.

ASTI has been assured that a suite of enhanced measures will also be available including:

  • Online access to guidance/resources and targeted support for students
  • Availability of NEPS psychologists – consultation with Student Support Teams/SET teams/subject teachers and parents
  • Availability of Support from the NCSE Support Service and the Tusla Education Support Service.

Further information can be accessed here:


(Q) Has the Department of Education issued a circular letter which details the working arrangements and leave arrangements for teachers and special needs assistants employed in post-primary schools for the 2021/2022 school year?

(A) Yes. The Department of Education has published Circular 0042/2021, titled ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Arrangements for Teachers and Special Needs Assistants employed in recognised Primary and Post Primary schools’ which details the arrangements regarding a wide range of matters associated with working arrangements and leave arrangements for teachers and special needs assistants employed in post-primary schools for the 2021/2022 school year. It constitutes updates of previously implemented arrangements with some additions.

This circular will replace Circular 0021/2021 and Information Note TC 0025/2021. 

Chapter 1 of Circular Letter 0042/2021 addresses the following matters:

• That all schools must put procedures in place that comply with the Work Safely Protocol
• That each school must have a Covid-19 Response Plan in place.
• The Employee Assistance Service, currently provided by Spectrum Life, can be accessed here.
• The requirement for all employees to complete a Covid-19 Return to Work Form.
• Arrangements for when an employee becomes unwell.
• Arrangements for employees who have a Covid-19 vaccination appointment during school hours.
• Data Protection and GDPR in the context of Covid-19 and Health and Safety.

Chapter 2 of Circular Letter 0042/2021 addresses the following matters:

• Covid-19 Special Leave with Pay.
• Application procedures for Special Leave with Pay.
• Self-Isolation requirements.
• Arrangements having received a Covid-19 Diagnosis
• Extended Special Leave with Pay beyond 28 days.
• Ordinary Sick Leave.

Chapter 3 of Circular Letter 0042/2021 addresses the following matters:

• Close Contacts and Restricted Movement
• Leave arrangements on return from Travel Overseas.
• Arrangements on return from Essential Travel Overseas.

Chapter 4 of Circular Letter 0042/2021 addresses the following matters:

• Arrangements for the “Very High Risk Group” of school employees.
• Arrangements for the “High Risk Group” of school employees.
• Arrangements whereby an employee can request a review where they consider that the ‘OHS Covid19 Health Risk Categorisation Report’ places him/her in an incorrect risk category.
• Arrangements for Pregnant Employees.
• Change in Covid-19 Health Risk Categorisation during 2021/2022 school year.
• Pregnant Employees Working in a Special Education Setting
• Alternative Working Arrangements where appropriate.
• Employees with caring or childcare responsibilities or living with high risk or very high risk individuals

A series of tables (pages 25 – 29 and page 42) set out the leave status associated with a range of different scenarios associated with Covid-19.

Circular Letter 0042/2021 can be accessed here. 

(Q) The nationally agreed ‘Covid-19 Work Safely Protocol’ requires that Lead Worker Representatives are put in place in all workplaces. What are the arrangements in schools?

(A) Most schools will already have their Lead Worker Representative(s) appointed. Where a vacancy exists, the school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). The LWR(s) represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. In this regard, where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible.

All staff are entitled to volunteer for the LWR role and have their name put forward for election where necessary. The process for the selection and appointment of the LWR(s) is that management will seek expressions of interest from all staff in the first instance. A template email for this purpose is below. If an election is necessary, all school staff members will have an equal vote to select the LWR(s).

Lead Worker Representative – Post-Primary Schools
The COVID-19 Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol was developed following discussion and agreement between the Government, Trade Unions and Employers at the Labour Employer Economic Forum.

The Protocol provides for the appointment of a Lead Worker Representative (LWR) in each workplace. The LWR will work in collaboration with the employer to assist in the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of COVID -19 and monitor adherence to those measures and to be involved in communicating the health advice around COVID-19 in the workplace.

The purpose of this document is to set out the provisions in respect of the LWR in schools. These arrangements will operate for the 2021/22 school year and will be kept under review by the parties.

This document should be read in conjunction with:

• the Work Safely Protocol
• the Guidance and FAQs for Public Service Employers during COVID-19
• the COVID-19 Response Plan for Post-primary Schools

1. Collaborative Approach
Responsibility for the development and implementation of the Covid-19 Response Plan and the associated control measures lies with the Board of Management/ Education and Training Board and school management.

Strong communication and a shared collaborative approach is key to protecting against the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and looking after the health, safety and wellbeing of staff and students. Adherence to the Work Safely Protocol will only be achieved if everyone has a shared obligation in implementing the measures contained within the Protocol in their place of work.

If a staff member has any concerns or observations in relation to the Covid-19 Response Plan, control measures or the adherence to such measures by staff, students or others, they should contact the LWR who will engage with school management.

2. Role of the Lead Worker Representative
The role of LWR is separate to that of the Safety Representative under the health and safety legislation. However, the Safety Representative may act as the LWR if selected to do so by the staff.

In summary, the role of the LWR is to:

  • Represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role, and be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts;
  • Keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 public health advice;
  • Work collaboratively with school management to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare of employees in relation to COVID-19;
  • Consult with school management on the control measures required to minimise the risk of staff and students being exposed to COVID-19;
  • Promote good hygiene practices, in conjunction with school management, such as washing hands regularly and maintaining good respiratory etiquette along with maintaining social distancing in accordance with public health advice;
  • Assist school management with the implementation of measures to suppress COVID-19 in the workplace in line with the Return to Work Safely Protocol and current public health advice;
  • Monitor, in conjunction with school management, adherence to measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
  • Conduct reviews of safety measures that are in place to address and suppress Covid-19 in the workplace. Reviews (including an examination of the workplace) should be conducted on a regular basis (at least twice per week);
  • Report any issues of concern immediately to school management and keep records of such issues and actions taken to rectify them;
  • Consult with the school management on the school’s COVID-19 Response Plan in the event of someone developing COVID-19 while in school including the location of an isolation area and a safe route to that area;
  • Following any incident, assess with the school management any follow up action that is required;
  • Consult with colleagues on matters relating to COVID-19 in the workplace;
  • Make representations to school management on behalf of their colleagues on matters relating to COVID-19 in the workplace.

3. What can a Lead Worker Representative Do?
The LWR may consult with, and make representations to, school management on any issue of concern in relation to COVID-19.

These include issues in relation to:

  • Cleaning protocols and their implementation
  • Physical Distancing
  • Configuration/re-configuration of the school facilities, including classrooms, corridors, halls, open areas, entry and exit points, school grounds, etc
  • Implementation of one-way systems in the school to ensure social distancing including when entering and exiting the school
  • Hand Hygiene facilities including their location and whether they are stocked and maintained
  • Hand sanitising
  • Staff awareness around hand hygiene in the school
  • Respiratory hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • At-Risk Groups
  • Visitors/Contractors

4. Does an LWR have any legal responsibilities?
No. A Lead Worker Representative does not have any duties in relation to COVID-19 other than those that apply to employees generally. In other words, the LWR is not responsible for the control measures within an organisation, which remains the employer’s responsibility.

5. Lead Worker Representative(s)
Every school will appoint one Lead Worker Representative. In schools with more than 40 staff, a second Lead Worker Representative will be appointed.

6. Selection of Lead Worker Representative(s)
The school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). The LWR(s) represent all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. In this regard, where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible.
All staff are entitled to volunteer for the LWR role and have their name put forward for election where necessary. The process for the selection and appointment of the LWR(s) is that management will seek expressions of interest from all staff in the first instance. A template email for this purpose is below. If an election is necessary, all school staff members will have an equal vote to select the LWR(s).

7. Supports for the Lead Worker Representative/s
The LWR(s) shall be entitled to:

  • Be provided with information and training in respect of their role. Induction Training for re-opening schools in the new school year has been developed by the Department of Education. This includes a training module for the Lead Worker Representative. This material can be accessed here.
  • Be consulted by school management on the control measures being put in place by the school to minimise the risk of being exposed to COVID-19;
  • Regular communication with school management on issues related to COVID-19;
  • Be informed of changes in practice arising from COVID-19 response measures;
  • Have access to any risk assessments prepared or carried out in relation to COVID-19 and to details of incidents of suspected COVID-19 cases that have been notified to the HSE, where they occurred and any actions taken.
  • Be provided with the necessary facilities to enable them to consult with employees or prepare any submissions or reports. These might include access to a meeting room, photocopier, communications and equipment.

Where the LWR is a teacher, the LWR will receive protected time of two hours per week from timetable to enable them to carry out their duties in that role. In the rare instances where the appointment of a teacher selected for the LWR would cause curricular/timetabling difficulties which cannot be resolved, school management will examine internal and external possibilities to enable the teacher’s appointment as LWR.

Where the matter cannot be resolved, management will set out the reasons why this is the case. In this circumstance, an alternative individual must be appointed as LWR.

Where the LWR is an SNA, 66 of the “72 hours” will be utilised by the LWR to carry out their duties in that role.

Where the LWR is a secretary or caretaker, a re-prioritisation of duties by school management should be carried out to afford the staff member sufficient time to carry out their duties in that role within the scope of their normal contracted hours.

8. Procedure for dealing with issues that arise
Where a COVID-19 control concern is identified by the LWR (or is notified to the LWR by a staff member), the LWR should bring this to the attention of the Principal. Action points for addressing the issue should, where possible, be agreed between the LWR and the Principal as a matter of urgency. Staff should be informed of the outcome.

It is envisaged that issues will be resolved at school level to the maximum extent possible. If agreement cannot be reached, the LWR should notify the Board of Management (Chairperson in the first instance)/ Education and Training Board head office of the issue. Action points for addressing the issue should, where possible, be agreed between the LWR and the BoM/ETB head office as a matter of urgency. Staff should be informed of the outcome.

If, having exhausted the process above, a serious issue of concern remains outstanding, the LWR may have recourse to the Health and Safety Authority.

Useful resources have also been developed by the Health & Safety Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in relation to the Return to Work Protocol and the role of the Lead Worker Representative. These focus on trying to support, in a practical way, the role of the Lead Worker Representative. They include a recommended complaints procedure in the event of non-compliance with the protocol. There is also a guide to the role of the Lead Worker Representative and a PowerPoint presentation to assist in that respect. All of these resources and more are now available here.

9. Glossary of Terms

  • COVID-19 Response Plan: plan designed to support the staff and BOM/ ETB in putting measures in place that will prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the school environment. The plan details the policies and practices necessary for a school to meet the Return to Work Safely Protocol, the Department of Education plan for school reopening and to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the school environment. COVID-19 Response Plans for Post-primary Schools are available on the Department’s website.
  • Labour Employer Economic Forum (LEEF): the forum for high-level dialogue between Government, Trade Union and Employer representatives on matters of strategic national importance - involves the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Government & Employers.
  • Work Safely Protocol: national protocol designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Safety Representative: Section 25 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 sets out the selection and role of the Safety Representative in the workplace. The rights of the Safety Representative are set out in legislation. (Note: A Safety Representative has rights and not duties under the 2005 Act). This role is separate to the LWR under COVID-19, but the Safety Representative may act as the LWR if selected to do so by the staff.

TEMPLATE EMAIL TO STAFF REGARDING LEAD WORKER REPRESENTATIVE APPOINTMENT PROCESS

Dear All,

As you will be aware, significant work and consultation has taken place to enable a full return to school from the beginning of the 2020/21 school year.

The resumption of school-based teaching and learning and the return to the workplace of staff must be done safely and in strict adherence to the advice and instructions of public health authorities and the Government.

The COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol was developed following discussion and agreement between the Government, Trade Unions and Employers at the Labour Employer Economic Forum. In addition, every school has a COVID-19 Response Plan in place.

The Return to Work Safely Protocol provides for the appointment of a Lead Worker Representative (LWR) in each workplace.

The LWR will work in collaboration with the employer to assist in the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of COVID -19 and monitor adherence to those measures and to be involved in communicating the health advice around COVID-19 in the workplace.

A copy of the school’s COVID-19 Response Plan is attached and this includes further detail on the role of the Lead Worker Representative. The COVID-19 Return to Work Safely Protocol is here. (www.gov.ie/en/publication/22829a-return-to-work-safely-protocol/)

In this school, there are (1 or 2 – delete as appropriate) Lead Worker Representative positions.

Under the Protocol, the school staff are entitled to select staff members for the LWR position(s). In this regard, I am now inviting expressions of interest from staff for these positions, by return email.

The LWR(s) represents all staff in the workplace regardless of role and must be aware of specific issues that may arise in respect of different staff cohorts. Where a school has two LWRs, the roles should be spread between teaching and non-teaching staff where feasible e.g. where there is a significant number of non-teaching staff in the school and one or more expressions of interest are received from that cohort.

Training for the role will be provided.

If an election is necessary, all school staff have a vote to select the LWR(s). Further details on this process will be sent to you if this arises. Following selection by the school staff, the LWR(s) will be formally appointed. The LWR details will be sent to all staff following their appointment.

Yours sincerely, 

________________________
Principal

(Q) What paid COVID-19 leave is available for long-term substitutes?

(A) Where a substitute has a contract and needs to take special COVID-19 leave the Department of Education has confirmed to ASTI that they will be paid.


(Q) Has the Department of Education provided advice for schools regarding the scheduling of Parent-Teacher meetings and open days?

(A)The advice provided to schools during the 2020/2021 school year has not yet been updated. It can be accessed here.


(Q) Has the Teaching Council and the Department of Education issued guidance in relation to how school placement can operate in the context of Covid-19?

(A) Yes. The Teaching Council and Department’s previous guidance in relation to how school placement can operate in the context of Covid-19 has been revised. This updated Guidance Note supersedes all previous versions. It can be accessed here.

(Q) What are the arrangements regarding school Inspection for the 2021/2022 school year?

(A) Updated November 2021:
In November 2021, the Department of Education published an Information Note regarding School Inspection arrangements, operable from November 25th which revised the arrangements previously set out in Circular Letter 0033/2021. In particular, the programme of incidental inspections taking place in the current term has been deferred until later in the school year. The revised arrangements as set out in the Information Note can be found here.

Circular Letter 0033/2021 sets out the arrangements regarding school inspection for the 2021/2022 school year.

This circular:

  • Acknowledges the significant efforts teachers, school leaders and boards of management made to ensure that teaching and learning could be sustained safely during the 2020/21 school year
  • Clarifies the arrangements for school self-evaluation (SSE) for the 2021/22 school year
  • Provides information about the Inspectorate’s planned advisory, evaluation and research work in schools for the 2021/22 school year
  • Provides information on the Inspectorate’s work on researching, supporting and monitoring the implementation of anti-bullying procedures in schools during the 2021/22 school year

(Q) Has the Department of Education issued an information note setting out the arrangements for appointment to Posts of Responsibility for the 2021/2022 school year in the context of the disruption caused by Covid-19?

(A) Yes. Information Note TC 0022/2021 - Information Note on Leadership and Management Positions in Recognised Post Primary Schools during the school year 2021/2022 has been issued by the Department of Education.

This Information Note will replace Information Note TTC 0001/2020.

(Q) Has the Department of Education announced any additional measures to increase the availability of substitutes for post-primary schools for 2021/2022?

(A) Yes. On November 29th, a suite of measures were announced to assist in the provision of additional substitution cover for schools. 

These include measures relating to:

- Student Teachers
- Retired Teachers
- Job Sharing Teachers
- Teachers on Career Break
- Temporary emergency substitution arrangements involving teachers already working in the school
- Suspension of some CPD where substitution is required
- Qualified Teachers on Secondment to the Department of Education Support Services
- Treoraithe who host student teachers on school placement

The details of these provisions can be accessed here.

(Q) What are the details of the temporary emergency substitution arrangements involving teachers already working in the school?

(A) On November 29th, the Minister for Education announced a suite of measures to assist in the provision of additional substitution cover for schools. These measures included a temporary emergency substitution arrangement involving a 35 hours maximum commitment by teachers already working in the school between now and the end of February 2022, over and above their contractual obligations.

ASTI has voiced its strong objection to the fact that the scheme is constructed on the structures provided by the discriminatory and unequal pay scales that divide and besmirch the profession.

Our press release in that regard can be accessed here

Participation in the scheme is voluntary.

It allows teachers to provide substitute cover over and above the maximum number of 22 hours per week available to them.

Payment will only be made for hours that are delivered under this arrangement. Any hours undertaken are in addition to and do not affect a teacher’s existing contractual obligations in terms of her/his commitments to the school(s) and S&S rota arrangements as already agreed and scheduled for the school year.  

The arrangement is open to all post primary teachers employed in a school and/or ETB. This includes job-sharing teachers, part-time teachers, substitution teachers and teachers who are on career break.  

Before undertaking the additional hours provided under these temporary emergency arrangements, any teacher who is working on fewer than 22 hours per week must first have worked 22 contact hours before utilising these hours

Payment:
Payment is based on the Personal Rate of Pay (to include allowances if applicable). This payment will be non-pensionable.  There is no entitlement for these hours to be included in any calculation for incremental progression, service history, CID or reckonable service for pension purposes.

The Personal Rate of Pay for a post-primary teacher is the appropriate personal annual salary (i.e. relevant point on the Common Basic Scale plus qualification and other allowances, where applicable) divided by 735 per hour for each hour worked.

ASTI has been informed by the Department of Education that they will produce a statement of Frequently Asked Questions and we await this detail in terms of how the calculation above will be applied in all circumstances. We will further inform members when such detail comes to hand.

Teachers are invited to indicate to School Management their availability to participate.

Claims should be submitted by the school(s) at the end of February 2022 to the Post Primary Payroll Section of Dept of Education, Athlone or to the HR Department of their ETB if employed in an ETB school.

This will allow for a once-off payment covering all hours delivered under this arrangement to be made to the teacher.  

The up-to-date details of the scheme can be accessed here

Important points:

  • Participation in the scheme is voluntary.
  • Participation in the scheme is available to all teachers working in the school.
  • Participation in the scheme is available for those who have previously opted out of the Supervision and Substitution scheme.
  • For teachers who do participate in the Supervision and Substitution scheme, the requirement to fulfil their obligations under the scheme is unchanged.
  • A teacher who participates in the S&S Scheme can also participate in the Covid-19 Emergency Substitution scheme.
  • These emergency arrangements are entirely separate from the S&S scheme. They attract an extra non-pensionable payment.
  • There is no weekly commitment and a cap of 35 hours between now and the end of February 2022 applies.
  • For existing regular part-time teachers who do paid substitution for colleagues who are absent, under the paid substitution scheme, the arrangements currently in place remain the same. Substitution opportunities that become available must be offered under the terms of that scheme in the first instance. Once such a teacher reaches 22 hours in any given week, they may be offered hours under the temporary emergency substitution arrangements.
  • The hours worked will be recorded at school level. ASTI advises members to make sure to keep their own records.
  • Regarding selection by School Management to cover any particular absence, priority will be given to teachers who are qualified to teach the class.
  • Arrangements for claiming the lump sum payment after February 2022 are not yet available. Members will be advised of same when they become known.
  • The payment will be non-pensionable and the hours cannot be counted for incremental credit purposes.
  • The hours worked will not count towards qualification for receipt of a Contract of Indefinite Duration. (CID)

 

Health, Safety and Welfare at Work

(Q) Have the HSE set up a dedicated phone number for schools with specific queries related to a confirmed Covid-19 case?

(A) A dedicated phone number – (01) 240 8785 – is being provided by the HSE for principals to ring in circumstances where they need assistance from Public Health in relation to a confirmed case of Covid-19 within their school community and have not yet heard from Public Health.

The phone number will operate 7 days a week, from 8am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and from 10am to 4.30pm Saturday and Sunday. This number is specifically for school principals for specific Covid-19 related queries pertaining to a positive case in the school community.

The operator will take basic details and provide the details directly to the relevant public health department. The public health team will respond within three hours in most circumstances. Every effort will be made for a same-day response, unless it is later in the afternoon when the response may come the following morning.

This unique arrangement has been developed to meet the particular needs of schools. The Department, along with the HSE, will engage closely with stakeholders to keep its effectiveness under review.

(Q) Are there Dedicated School Teams to support school principals when there is a positive case?

(A) Yes. The Public Health response to schools in the coming term will be enhanced by the HSE through the increased resourcing of existing School Teams in each HSE area.

These multi-disciplinary teams are being led by public health professionals and will be supplemented by inspectors assigned for this work to the HSE from the Department of Education as well as other staff reassigned from within the health services.

Inspectors will bring their expertise and knowledge of the working of schools to support these teams to communicate with schools. Inspectors will not be performing their inspectorate role while carrying out this work and will be operating at all times under the management and direction of the HSE.

Public Health team members will take calls and phone schools following identification of a positive Covid-19 case, and having been trained in Public Health protocols undertake the schools’ component of the initial risk assessment. They may inform schools of any further actions as required under the direction of Public Health. Assigned inspectors and other team members will respond to queries from the HSElive Principals line and take schools’ queries that come directly to the Department of Public Health.

It should be noted that under no circumstances will Department of Education staff be making clinical decisions. All clinical guidance will remain under the governance of Public Health. However, as part of this work, the school teams will assist with gathering the required information from principals to help the public health teams identify the school-based close contacts. Close contacts will then be notified by school management, who will forward a letter or text from Public Health. HSE will then contact close contacts to notify them of their test appointment.

Dedicated testing of close contacts from a school when there is a positive case
Public Health has in place prioritised testing for those close contacts of a confirmed case within the school community.

Covid-19 test appointments are issued as a priority for school-based close contacts through a specific schools referral process within the HSE. Public Health will determine when they wish the swabs to be undertaken. This may be ‘as soon as possible’ but it may also be determined for clinical reasons that the swabs should be undertaken in a day or so time. At the point of testing, swabs for the school group are sent to the laboratory as a ‘red flagged’ batch to be processed as a priority on delivery to the laboratory. The swabs have a specific school reference number to allow batch reporting of results for the particular school setting. This ensures fast turnaround times for testing and enables swift onward further public health actions if required.

(Q) Has the Department of Education committed to providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser materials for schools which will be necessary for reopening of schools?

(A) Like last year, the Department of Education has put a central procurement arrangement in place for the supply of PPE and hand Sanitiser materials to schools to support their reopening in the context of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Schools will be able to draw down supplies of these materials. The Department will provide a grant to schools, based on a sliding scale to reflect enrolments.

PPE includes gloves, aprons, masks, visors etc.

The Department has assured ASTI that there will be sufficient supplies available to meet the needs of all schools.

(Q) Will PPE be used by teachers and students in classrooms when schools reopen?

(A) Arrangements for the 2021/2022 school year are the same as last year.

In September 2020, the Department of Education also issued a clarification on the use of face coverings in schools.

Clarification on the use of face coverings in Post-Primary schools
Wearing a face covering or mask does not negate the need to stay at home if symptomatic.

Wearing of face coverings – a requirement
Staff and students, at post-primary level, are required to wear a face covering. The exemptions to this are set out below.

Cloth face coverings
Cloth face coverings are recommended for staff and students. Cloth face coverings act as a barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from travelling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the face covering coughs, sneezes, talks or raises their voice. Cloth face coverings are therefore intended to prevent transmission of the virus from the wearer (who may not know that they are infected) to those with whom they come into close contact. Face coverings must not contain any slogans/logos/images that may cause upset or be deemed offensive to any member of the school community.

Visors
Cloth face coverings are more effective than visors. In the limited circumstances where a cloth face covering cannot be worn clear visors must be considered. The alternate use of a clear visor can also be considered when a staff member is interacting with students with hearing difficulties or learning difficulties.

Exemptions
A medical certificate to certify that a person falls into a category listed below must be provided to the school by, or on behalf of, any person (staff or student) who claims that they are covered by the exemptions below:

  • any person with difficulty breathing who cannot wear a cloth face covering or a visor
  • any person who is unable to remove the cloth face-covering or visor without assistance
  • any person who has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the cloth face covering or visor, for example persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, sensory concerns or tactile sensitivity.

In circumstances where a medical certificate is not provided that person (staff or student) will be refused entry to the school.

Directions for effective use of face coverings

  • Information should be provided by schools on the proper use, removal, and washing of face coverings. Advice on how to use face coverings properly can be found here.
  • All staff and students should be reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash or sanitise their hands (using hand sanitiser) before putting on and after taking off the face covering.
  • All staff (and students, where applicable), should be aware that they should wash or sanitise hands (using a hand sanitiser) before and after helping a student put on or adjust a face covering.
  • Face coverings should be stored in a designated space, for example, in an individually labelled container or bag.
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed after every day of use and/or before being used again, or if visibly soiled.
  • Face coverings should not be worn if they are wet. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe.

Whilst staff and students may wish to utilise their own face covering on a day-to-day basis, schools should have a stock of additional disposable or multi-use face coverings (or if appropriate, visors) for staff and students in case a back-up face covering is needed during the day or where required on an ongoing basis.

Use of medical grade face coverings
Schools should consider the specific circumstances where the use of medical face masks (to EU Standard EN 14683) may be more appropriate for staff as part of their risk assessment for employees returning to work (for example where staff by necessity need to be in close and continued proximity with students with intimate care needs such as SNAs).

Students using school transport
All students on the post-primary transport scheme are required to wear face coverings subject to the exemptions above.

 

(Q) Is the Department of Education making any provision to support employee’s wellbeing in what will be challenging times after school closures?

(A) An Occupational Health Strategy is in place as a supportive resource for individual staff members in schools. The aim of the Occupational Health Strategy is to promote the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace, with a strong focus on prevention. The Occupational Health Strategy comprises the Employee Assistance Service and the Occupational Health Service. The Employee Assistance Service (EAS) is provided by Spectrum.Life under the logo of ‘Wellbeing Together: Folláinne Le Chéile’.

Under the EAS, employees have a dedicated free-phone confidential helpline 1800 411 057 available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing advice on a range of issues such as wellbeing, legal, financial, mediation, management support etc. Where required, short-term counselling is available to employees and their families (over the age of 18 years and living at home). A bespoke wellbeing portal and app which offers access to podcasts and blogs on topics around wellbeing and mental health, family life, exercise and nutrition is also available. In addition, online cognitive behavioural therapy is provided. As part of the services provided by Spectrum.Life a Mental Health Promotion Manager is available to develop and deliver evidence based mental health and wellbeing initiatives to reduce stigma and improve mental health literacy and to increase engagement with the service.

(Q) Has the Department of Education funded the provision of portable CO2 monitors for schools for 2021/ 2022 school Year?

(A) Yes. Updated guidance for schools on Practical Steps for the Deployment of Good Ventilation Practices in Schools was provided at the end of May following the work of an expert group that considered the role of ventilation in managing COVID-19.

A copy of the guidance is published here.

The use of CO2 monitors can provide a useful general indication that areas/rooms within a building may not be adequately ventilated and can enable occupants to become familiar with the impact that activities, outdoor weather and window openings have on levels of good ventilation within a room. This information can be used to inform strategies for improving ventilation.

The Department is procuring a number of portable monitors that will be distributed to schools in August and September. Numbers distributed will be between 20 and 35 at post-primary level depending on school size.


(Q) What guidance has the Department of Education issued regarding the range of issues schools face in relation to ventilation in schools?

(A) The Department of Education has issued a suite of guidance documents to assist schools in dealing with ventilation issues. These include guidance on steps to be taken to improve ventilation, the deployment of CO2 monitors and room air cleaner guidance.

The information can be accessed here:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ad236-guidance-on-ventilation-in-schools/


(Q) What are the arrangements to be put in place in schools to ensure physical distancing takes place?

(A) Advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre has stated as follows:

Physical distancing measures fall into two broad categories:

• increasing separation;
• decreasing interaction.

The principle of distancing can be usefully applied in the school setting, allowing for some flexibility when needed. However, it must be applied in a practical way, recognising that the learning environment cannot be dominated by a potentially counterproductive focus on this issue.

Care should be taken to avoid generating tension or potential conflict and some flexibility in the implementation of measures may be required at times. It is acknowledged that staff will not always be able to maintain physical distance from their pupils and it is not appropriate that they would always be expected to do so where this could have a detrimental impact on the child e.g. if a child sustains an injury and requires first aid.

However, where possible teachers should maintain a minimum of 1m distance and where possible 2m. They should take measures to avoid close contact at face-to-face level such as remaining standing rather than sitting beside/crouching down.

Physical distancing in the classroom - increasing separation

  • All available space in the school should be availed of in order to safely maximise physical distancing. The class space should be reconfigured to maximise physical distancing.
  • Maintaining as much distance as is reasonably practicable between people within the classroom is likely to have substantial effect.
  • Situations that require people to sit or stand in direct physical contact with other people should in particular be avoided.
  • The teacher’s desk should be placed at least 1m and where possible 2m away from pupil’s desks.

Physical distancing outside of the classroom and within the school - decreasing interaction

The extent to which this is practical will depend on the school setting. A common-sense approach is required in recognising the limits to which decreasing interaction between pupils can be achieved.

 The following measures should be encouraged:

  • Limit interaction on arrival and departure and in hallways and other shared spaces
  • Social physical contact (hand to hand greeting/hugs) should be discouraged
  • Where pupils need to move about within the classroom to perform activities (for example to access a shared resource) this should be organised to the greatest extent possible to minimise congregation around the point of access to the shared resource
  • Pupils and teachers should avoid sharing of personal items such as pens and other writing materials, tablets and phones to the greatest extent possible
  • Encourage people to avoid behaviours that involve hand to mouth contact (putting pens/pencils in the mouth)
  • Where teaching and learning involves use of keyboards or tablets, the contact surfaces of the devices should be cleaned regularly and hand hygiene encouraged
  • Where sub-groups are formed within a class for group work, to the greatest extent possible the same pupils should generally be in the same group, although movement between groups may be necessary to address tensions between pupils
  • Physical distancing of 2 metres where possible or at least 1 metre should be maintained between desks or between individual students or staff. In future planning, consider moving to individual desks and chairs for students
  • As far as possible students would remain in the classroom and teachers would move between rooms
  • All children would be assigned to a main class cohort, which would remain in the classroom for most subjects with teachers moving between rooms
  • Where possible double classes would be planned to minimise movement during the day
  • Where students have to move to an elective subject they would move quickly into the new class and would be seated with members of their class cohort, observing as much physical distancing as possible.
  • Hand washing and/or sanitising would be required when moving between classes by both teacher and students.
  • Physical distancing between the teacher and the class would be observed
  • Where movement of class groups between rooms is required it should be planned to minimise interaction with other class groups (for example coordination of movements at staggered times)

Arrangements for dropping off/picking up children:

  • Students should maintain 2 metres physical distance as much as possible
  • Walking/cycling to school should be encouraged as much as possible
  • These should be organised to maintain a distance of 2 metres between parents and guardians and between parents and guardians and the school staff

The aim is to avoid congregation of people at school gates where physical distancing requirements are not respected.

Some approaches that may be considered include the following:

  • Staggered drop off/pick up times where practical/feasible, so that not all children arrive onsite at one time. If the school has additional access points, consideration may be given to whether it would be beneficial to open these to reduce congestion.
  • Consideration may be given to where children go as they arrive at the facility. This could include heading straight to their small group’s designated learning space/classroom.
  • For those arriving by car, parents may be encouraged to park further away from the school and then walk with their children to avoid congestion, or alternatively use active travel routes where feasible. Where learning spaces can be accessed directly from outside, this should be encouraged to decrease interactions between individuals in circulation spaces.

Physical distancing considerations for staff

  • A distance of 2 metres is recommended for physical distancing by staff. In the context of education this is especially relevant to distancing between adults when they are not engaged in teaching for example when on breaks and arriving for work
  • If a distance of 2m cannot be maintained in staff group interactions, as much distance as possible should be maintained and guidance on face coverings should be observed
  • Physical distancing should be observed between staff members within the staff room through the use of staggered breaks etc. In particular at post-primary level, this could also be facilitated through the formation of school staff 'pods' / teams who work together and take breaks together
  • Staff meetings may be held remotely, or in small groups or in large spaces to facilitate physical distancing
  • Implement a no hand shaking policy
  • Minimise gathering of school staff in the workplace at beginning or end of school day.
  • Staff can rotate between areas/classes but this should be minimised where possible. Canteen facilities – to the greatest extent possible
  • Ensure that physical distancing is applied in canteen facilities
  • Stagger canteen use and extend serving times to align with Class Groupings
  • Implement a queue management system with correct marking to avoid queues
  • Make sure students clean their hands before and after entering the canteen area
  • Corridors & Stairwell: Briefly passing someone in a hallway is very unlikely to contribute significantly to spread of infection if people do not have physical contact and avoid informal group discussions

Yard/Supervision

The risk of virus transmission from contact with outside surfaces or play areas is low.

  • Adjust playtime/outdoor activities to minimise crowding at entrance and exits
  • Stagger break times and outdoor access
  • Children should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene before and after outdoor activities;
  • Minimize equipment sharing, and clean shared equipment between use by different people.

Activities Choir/Music Performances

  • Choir practices/performances and music practices/ performances involving wind instruments may pose a higher level of risk and special consideration should be given to how they are held ensuring the room is well ventilated and the distance between performers is maintained.

(Q) What are the arrangements for holding full-year/group assemblies and staff meetings in schools?

(A) Following representations by ASTI on full-year/group assemblies and staff meetings, the following note was issued to schools by the Department of Education.

  • The re-opening of schools is a key national priority.
  • As part of the suite of public health measures, limits were placed on gatherings in other settings in order to support the re-opening of schools which by its nature involves significant numbers of staff and students in school buildings.
  • The public health guidance recommends 2m physical distancing between staff in schools.
  • When organising staff meetings, school management should make every possible effort to hold them remotely or in small groups while maintaining a 2m distance and to avoid large gatherings including large full school/year group assemblies in one physical space.

(Q) Has any guidance been provided on lunchboxes, water bottles, and the sharing of individual resources by students?

(A) Yes, The Department of Education guidance for parents states as follows:

Your child can bring a lunchbox/water bottle to school, but they should be the only person to handle these items during the school day and should not share or swap their lunch with other children. This aligns with regular good practice to protect children with allergies from accidental exposure to allergens such as nuts. The virus that causes COVID-19 survives for longer on hard surfaces like lunchboxes and water bottles, compared to soft fabrics like clothing, so these items should only be used by one child and should be cleaned daily with regular household cleaning products.

Wherever possible, children should have their own individual resources, for example: textbooks, pencil cases, art equipment. Some resources can be shared when necessary, but strict adherence to the Department of Education COVID-19 response plan for the safe reopening of schools must be maintained:

Shared Equipment

  • art – where possible students should be encouraged to have their own individual art and equipment supplies
  • electronics – shared electronic devices such as tablets, touch screens and keyboards should be cleaned between use and consideration could be given to the use of wipeable covers for electronics to facilitate cleaning
  • musical equipment/instruments – to the greatest extent possible, instruments should not be shared between students and if sharing is required, the instruments should be cleaned between uses
  • books – where practical students should have their own books. Textbooks that are shared should be covered in a wipeable plastic covering that can be wiped with a suitable household cleaning agent between uses. Students should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene before and after using any shared item
  • shared sports equipment – minimise equipment sharing and clean shared equipment between uses by different people

(Q) Has guidance been provided on the particular impact of Covid-19 on particular school activities or in relation to the conduct of teaching and learning of practical subjects?

(A) During consultations in July 2020, ASTI pressed the Department of Education to develop individual subject advice to assist with the reopening of schools. They committed to provide more detailed advice on school activities in advance of school reopening. This advice is available here.

In addition, public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) was issued and addressed a limited range of such matters. It provides as follows:

Choir/Music Performance
Choir practices/performances and music practices/performances involving wind instruments may pose a higher level of risk and special consideration should be given to how they are held ensuring that the room is well-ventilated and the distance between performers is maintained.

Art
Where possible students should be encouraged to have their own individual art and equipment supplies.

Electronics
Shared electronic devices such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards should be cleaned between use and consideration could be given to the use of wipeable covers for electronics to facilitate cleaning.

Musical Equipment/Instruments
To the greatest extent possible, instruments should not be shared between students and if sharing is required, the instruments should be cleaned between uses.

Library Policy
Where practical students should have their own books. Textbooks that are shared should be covered in a wipeable plastic covering that can be wiped with a suitable household cleaning agent between uses. Students should be encouraged to perform hand hygiene after using any shared item.

Shared Sports Equipment
Minimise equipment sharing and clean shared equipment between uses by different people.

(Q) Has the Department of Education issued any guidance or resources to support the welfare of school communities?

(A) The Department of Education have issued a suite of guidance and resources relating to the support of school communities.

It can be accessed here.

(Q) Has the Department of Education provided updated FAQs for School Principals or Designated Contact Persons in September 2021 to assist them in dealing with COVID-19 related issues?

(A) Yes. Guidance has been issued which deals with the following issues related to Covid-19 in schools.

(a)     If a positive case is identified from your school
(b)     Vaccination
(c)     Close contact information
(d)    Contact from HSE Public Health
(e)    Close Contact testing
(f)      A pupil/student/staff member develops symptoms
(g)    Data

It can be accessed here.

 

Curriculum and Examinations

(Q) Has the Minister for Education set out plans for the 2022 Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle examinations?

(A) Yes. In June 2021, Minister Foley announced that there would be adjustments made to the assessment arrangements for students due to sit State examinations in 2022, to take account of the disruption to their learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The level of adjustment will be similar to that applied by the Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, as announced in December 2020.

The document, with changes to reflect syllabus content specific to the 2022 State Examinations has been published and is accessible here

These arrangements which were published in December 2020 have been updated to include, where relevant:

  • revised dates for the submission of coursework, for the school year 2021/22
  • updated lists of prescribed materials for examination in 2022
  • the new assessment arrangements in Junior Cycle subjects being examined for the first time in 2022 including: Technology Subjects, Jewish Studies, Classics and Religious Education 

The adjustments being put in place will leave intact the familiar overall structure of the examinations, while incorporating additional choice for students in the examinations.

There will be no change to the length of the written examinations. It is intended that an alternative set of Leaving Certificate examinations will be run in 2022, shortly following the main set of examinations. These examinations will be limited to certain students who are unable to sit the main set of examinations due to close family bereavement, COVID-19 illness and certain other categories of serious illness to be determined.

The SEC will issue further details regarding the 2022 examinations, with all arrangements guided by prevailing public health advice. There will be further engagement with stakeholders in advance of this.

There will be no second sitting of the Junior Cycle examinations.

Leaving Certificate Applied 2021-22 Summary Advice Note can be accessed here

This summary advice note sets out the key curriculum and assessment arrangements for LCA Year 1 and Year 2 students in the 2021/22 school year.

(Q) What are the arrangements regarding the provision of the Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme for the 2021/2022 school Year?

(A) Circular 76/2020, which set out the arrangements for the Implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle with particular reference to the school year 2020/21, advised that, in view of the various challenges facing schools on resumption in September 2020, schools were being given the option to defer the increase of wellbeing provision at Junior Cycle for students entering first year, from 300 to 400 hours by one year, until the 2021/22 academic year.

Following representations from the ASTI, it is recognised that the disruption caused by the further school closures in 2021, as a result of the pandemic, presented challenges in moving to this level of provision from September 2021. In view of this schools are being given the option to defer the increase of wellbeing provision at Junior Cycle, for incoming first years, from 300 to 400 hours by one further year, until the 2022/23 academic year. In planning their Wellbeing programmes, schools should note that from September 2022 onwards, the use of the Junior Certificate syllabuses for SPHE and CSPE should be discontinued.

School Principals were notified of this position by the Department of Education in March 2021.

(Q) Has the Department of Education provided guidance regarding the operation of Transition Year programmes for the 2021/2022 school year?

(A) Yes. The Department of Education has provided guidance regarding the operation of Transition Year programmes for the 2021/2022 school year. It can be accessed here.

(Q) Has the Department of Education provided guidance for management and teachers regarding the Leaving Certificate Applied programme for the 2021/2022 school year?

(A) Yes. The Department of Education has provided advice regarding the operation of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme for the 2021/2022 school year. It can be accessed here.

(Q) Is the Department of Education providing a support scheme to help schools mitigate the adverse impacts of Covid-19 on pupil/student learning loss and wellbeing arising from the periods of school closures in 2020 and 2021?

(A) Yes. The Department of Education has provided details of a support scheme to help schools mitigate the adverse impacts of Covid-19 on pupil/student learning loss and wellbeing arising from the periods of school closures in 2020 and 2021.

Under the programme, Covid-19 Learning and Support Scheme (CLASS), additional teaching hours are being provided to schools for the 2021/22 school year as a once-off temporary allocation. The extra resources provided to schools under the CLASS support programme should be used for the pupils who are prioritised by the school as having been most impacted by Covid, including those who may not have previously come to the attention of the school as needing extra supports

Circular Letter 0045/2021 sets out the details. It can be accessed here.

Guidance relating to the implementation of the Covid-19 Learning and Support Scheme (CLASS) is available here.

 

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