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School staffing supports ‘at their max’

News

Retired and student teachers drafted in

Huge effort keeps Mayo schools open

Edwin McGreal

Despite many teachers and pupils being unable to attend school due to Covid-19, all Mayo’s national schools have remained open. However, this could not have been achieved without drafting in both student and retired teachers.
The Irish National Schools Teachers’ Association (INTO) representative for Mayo, Vincent Duffy, said some schools have been to the pin of their collar to provide cover but have succeeded in doing so.
“Some schools are finding it hard to get staff, but no class has been sent home to the best of my knowledge,” Mr Duffy told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday) evening.
“All classes have been covered where there have been staff out. We are getting support from third and fourth-year undergraduates, postgraduate students, supply panels and retired teachers. Staffing supports are certainly at their max,” he added.

Hope
Duffy revealed that most schools are reporting attendance ‘between 60 and 80 percent’. While Covid-positive cases and close contacts account for a proportion of those absent, caution among parents in light of high numbers in the community is also a factor.
“My hope, from talking to principals, teachers and parents, is that things will settle down in the next few weeks,” Duffy said, “but for the next week or two, we will be trying to cover absences and get over this hump.
“Every resource is being used to keep schools open. The vast majority of teachers and children are glad to be back, despite big numbers [of Covid cases in the community],” he said.
Mr Duffy is principal of Breaffy NS, outside Ballina. The school has 250 pupils. On Thursday and Friday last, 70 percent of the children were in school. That figure had risen to 80 percent yesterday (Monday).
He said the school has been ‘lucky enough’ to have had just two staff absent since reopening. Some larger schools in the Ballina area are having greater issues with staff off, he noted.
According to Duffy, retired teachers have been invaluable to the education system during the pandemic – but especially in recent weeks.
“Retired teachers have been a great resource over the years in supporting schools, and certainly since March 2020. In the last six to seven weeks, before Christmas and since we came back, retired teachers have been required more than ever to secure cover,” he said.

Rising to the challenge
Mr Duffy added that many schools in the county have Hepa filters or other air-filtration systems in place. He said while he has read reports in the national media about low temperatures in classrooms, he said he has not heard of ‘too many problems’ locally.
“I would suggest that with the windows open, schools have to keep the heating on for longer. The price of oil is expensive at the moment, but that’s what we find we’re having to do here to keep a comfortable temperature. It is up to each school to manage it.
“Most schools are rising to the challenge. The first few weeks in January were always going to be difficult, and the hope is we will get over this hump and schools will operate in a more normal fashion in a few weeks,” he added.

‘Thrilled to be back’
George Moran is also, coincidentally, principal of Breaffy NS – but this Breaffy NS is located outside Castlebar. It has 435 pupils and a staff of 38.
“We’re delighted to be open and all our staff are thrilled to be back,” he told The Mayo News.
“We’re thrilled for all our pupils, but especially for those with special needs – any alternative was not good for them. Schools should have been open much sooner last year for resource kids. They could have opened schools for them, used big rooms and facilitated it that way.
“Things are going well. We’ve 25 percent absenteeism. Some [absentees] are due to caution and others due to Covid. We had six staff members absent last week, and that has improved today. We were okay for cover. I had pre-booked subs in anticipation of such issues. The enthusiasm and flexibility of staff is great and makes everything so much easier,” he added.

Ballina pop-up
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 testing centre in Castlebar has been running at full capacity all week, with more than 800 people a day attending at MacHale Park. A HSE source told The Mayo News that the facility was still extremely busy yesterday (Monday). However, a pop-up testing centre in James Stephens’ Park in Ballina today (Tuesday) and tomorrow should ease a lot of the congestion.
“We hope to cater for more than 1,000 people there so that should be a great help. The main cohort of people coming through the testing centre remains those under 40 years of age, which includes a large amount of teenagers and children, but no increase in these sections,” they said.