Breakthrough for summer special needs programme

Breakthrough in safety provision for summer programme for children with special needs

Fórsa and the Department of Education and Skills have agreed a supplementary set of guidance on Covid-19 safety measures in schools, which finally provide adequate safeguards on minimising coronavirus risks to staff and students during the summer programme for disadvantaged children and those with special educational needs.

On foot of the breakthrough, which came late this afternoon (Thursday), the union is now advising special needs assistants (SNAs) and other school-based members that the education department has taken the steps necessary to minimise health risks to students and staff this summer.

The schools summer programme is due to start in July. The new guidance documents will be circulated to schools shortly, and further comprehensive guidance is to be developed for the full re-opening of schools in the autumn.

In evidence to the Oireachtas Special Committee on the Covid-19 Response last week, Fórsa criticised earlier education department guidance, not least for the absence of advice to SNAs on social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

These issues are now addressed in the new guidance agreed today, which includes provision for:

  • An on-line training presentation for all staff
  • Advice on maintaining a two metre social distance where possible
  • Advice on the use of PPE, including face coverings, and
  • Advice on the use of PPE when carrying out intimate care
  • The development of a full Covid-19 response for all schools, based on a national template
  • Arrangements for completing ‘return to work’ forms in line with the union-negotiated return to work safely protocol
  • Agreement on appointing lead Covid-19 worker safety representatives in schools that participate in the summer programme
  • Advice that staff with underlying health conditions should not participate in the summer programme
  • Advice on handwashing and hand sanitisers.

Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said the hard-won measures were a “genuine attempt to address the safety issues posed by Covid-19,” and added that they recognise that social distancing may not always be possible for SNAs, who will be provided with face visors and other appropriate PPE.

“Now that agreed guidance has finally been developed, we can advise our schools-based members that the education department has taken the steps necessary to minimise the risks of working and participating in the summer educational programmes,” he said.

Andy said the union was continuing to work with the department and other stakeholders on comprehensive guidance on the re-opening of schools in the autumn.

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