Lack of Covid-19 guidance for summer education programme a ‘dereliction of duty’- Fórsa
Fórsa, which represents more than 10,000 special needs assistants (SNAs) has strongly criticised the failure of the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh TD, to provide guidance on managing the Covid-19 risks posed to students and staff in the new summer education programmes published today (Friday).
The minister announced the Government’s approval for a three-strand summer education programme for more than 10,000 children with special education needs this afternoon. The programme is to run for a minimum of two weeks in July. The union said there are several key issues requiring clarification before the new programme commences, including guidance to schools on maintaining health and safety in respect of the risks posed by Covid-19.
Fórsa’s head of education Andy Pike said the programmes make no mention of the Protocol on a Safe Return to work, and that this represented a dereliction of duty on the part of the Minister. He said guidance must be issued ahead of the programme, in addition to staff training.
The Framework for Re-Opening Schools makes clear that key decisions on social distancing and managing risks within the school environment have yet to be taken, yet schools and staff are expected to provide educational programmes for vulnerable students in a couple of weeks with no guidance on dealing with the risks of Covid-19.
Mr Pike said: “The Framework for Re-Opening Schools, also published today, makes clear that key decisions on social distancing and managing risks within the school environment have yet to be taken. Despite this schools and staff are expected to provide educational programmes for vulnerable students in a couple of weeks with no guidance on dealing with the risks of Covid-19.
“The Minister says he wants things to return to normal and appears to be content to ignore public health advice. We all want to see schools re-open and resume their normal daily routines, but this is not possible at the moment. All the available evidence suggests that new measures will be needed to maintain health and safety in our schools whenever they open, be it in July or at the end of August. The minister can’t ignore that fact.
“Staff need certainty on what working practices will change, and what health and safety measures will be required. Schools also need this certainty if they are to participate in the service. The minister can’t ignore those questions, and the complete lack of joined-up thinking in evidence will be clear to SNA members,” he said.
Mr Pike said the expansion of July provision was a welcome initiative and would play an important role in delivering a vital educational opportunity following the long period of school closure. He said while Fórsa will be encouraging members to volunteer to work within the new summer programme, this would only be on the basis that adequate health and safety measures are in place within each participating school.
This is a new measure added to the scheme at the last minute with no consultation, which is simply not good enough.
Mr Pike also criticised the failure of the Department of Education and Skills to consult with the union on a new provision for home tuition. “This is a new measure, added to the scheme at the last minute, with no consultation, no guidance and giving the appearance of merely improvising rather than cohesive planning. That’s simply not good enough,” he said.
Last year approximately 10,000 students in over 250 schools participated in the programme, with some 1,500 SNAs volunteering to work in July.
Separately, Fórsa’s Health and Welfare division has sought a meeting with the HSE to discuss how it intends to find the capacity for health and social care professionals (HSCPs) to work within the schools-based strand. The union says it fully supports efforts to provide enhanced services to children with special needs over the summer, but says HSCPs are currently fully engaged on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the anticipated reactivation of normal health services. This at a time when significant vacancies exist, and the Sláintecare report has identified a shortfall of 1,400 HSCPs across health services.