IPPN President Damian White statement: School leaders need support from inspectors, not more checklists

Wednesday 16th September 2020

It is not unreasonable for there to be checks to ensure that schools are operating in accordance with public health guidelines to protect all members of the school community. As employers, the Board has a duty of care to its employees and its pupils to provide a safe environment in which to work and learn. However, the move to have the primary inspectorate organise inspections of schools on behalf of the HSA is ill-judged and poorly timed, not to mention an insult to school leaders, teachers and Boards of Management. It utterly compromises the advisory and support role the inspectorate claimed to embrace before this was ever experienced by a school.

Since March 12th, when schools were forced to close their doors and school leaders had to lead learning using new and innovative ways of supporting their pupils through various online platforms, school leaders have not had a break. Before Covid-19, the burgeoning workload of principals meant that they were lucky if they managed any sort of break in the middle of the summer holidays. This summer, the vast majority of principals had no break at all, with many working 50/60-hour weeks, or more, to make sure their schools were ready to resume, with all measures in place to ensure the safety of all children and staff.

There are many ways in which the body of inspectors could support the heroic efforts of school leaders.

They could, as originally mooted, have supported school leaders by providing a guidance service to those seeking support to make their school ready.

They could have advocated for schools whose challenges were greater in terms of compliance with new regulations.

They could have supported principals dealing with the drip-feed of rules and regulations emanating weekly, usually on Friday evenings, from the Department of Education.

They could have intervened to support schools in devising new systems of food distribution as part of the school meals programme.

For school leaders, who have undertaken and overseen the huge changes in school physical infrastructure, new ways of teaching, altered timetables and countless policy adjustments required to keep pupils and staff safe, there aren’t enough minutes in the day, or hours in the week. They are now on 24-hour call from the HSE in the event of a positive Covid case linked to their schools. They are overseen and supported by voluntary boards of management and assisted by recently-appointed lead workers to ensure there is compliance with every issue. The safety of everyone in the school community is the top priority for every school leader, and many have sought support where they feel there are risks that need to be mitigated. This is where the focus should be – on supporting schools to implement the guidelines. The inspectorate is now seeking to carry out compliance inspections, with the blessing of the Department of Education, for the HSA. The HSA has the remit to inspect any workplace to review compliance with the guidelines. The remit of the Inspectorate is wholly different. To provide a modicum of support to schools and avoid the need for inspection visits, the inspectorate could create a template for school boards of management – based on those drawn up by the HSE for the reopening of schools - to complete and sign to show that the school has complied with the guidelines. As noted by one primary principal ‘If we can be trusted to spend million-euro devolved grants based on such a form, surely we can be trusted with this.’

School leaders and teachers have had to find different ways of working and have made good on the promises that other people made on the re-opening of schools. It would appear that the Inspectorate has not found another way of working, or of supporting schools, but rather something different to inspect. The thing about accountability is that it should work both ways. How would the Department’s scorecard look, if it were measured on a similar basis to that which is mooted for schools to be inspected?

1. Were guidelines for the reopening of schools issued in a timely fashion allowing sufficient time for their full implementation?

2. Was the procurement framework released in a timely fashion and was it fit for purpose in terms of ensuring that schools could source sufficient PPE in advance of schools reopening?

3. Were guidelines for the supporting of remote learning developed and issued to schools in a timely fashion in order to inform the work being undertaken from March to June?

4. Did every school receive a phone call from its Inspector to check how things were going and to see if they could provide any support or assistance?

5. Are adequate support structures in place to ensure that schools receive timely and appropriate advice in the event of a confirmed case in the school?

6. Is there an out of hours contact number for the DES/HSE to match the out of hours availability that has been requested of school leaders?

7. In terms of supporting the well-being of school leaders, has any account been taken of the sheer burden of work that was required to ensure schools were ready to re-open and remain open or has any account been taken of the toll that has extracted from those school leaders?

 

It is, perhaps, a good time to point out to the HSA the serious risk to the health and wellbeing of school leaders, who have had no break from work since March. Annual leave was given up to the preparations listed above. School leaders are now in the impossibly difficult position where they hear of a Covid case involving a staff member, a pupil or a close family contact, and must maintain silence on the matter, knowing that colleagues and students are unaware of the issue, until the HSE eventually makes contact and begins the contact tracing process. This is causing huge emotional strain on school leaders, for whom the loss of trust from staff and parents will only be one of the inevitable consequences. It is placing an impossible strain on the more than 1,800 principals who teach full-time in addition to their leadership and management responsibilities.

It is time also to point out that it is proving impossible in many areas for a principal to contact the HSE outside of office hours. IPPN has set up an out-of-hours support service for principals who have just found out they have a Covid issue to deal with in school and need support. From Friday night to Sunday evening, 18 such cases were supported. It should be the job of the HSE to provide support to school leaders in dealing with school-related Covid issues. There should be a dedicated service for schools, available at least twelve hours a day, seven days a week, which should be provided by experienced, well-informed and medically-trained personnel who can give clear guidance on the necessary steps to be taken in the event of a positive case in a school. To minimise the risk of the virus spreading within schools after a case has been notified to them, the HSE should react quickly to school Covid issues, provide information to the close contacts of the positive case as a matter of urgency (and not leave this to the principal as has happened in a number of cases), provide prioritised testing for staff and pupils, and expedite the return to school of those who test negative.

Every stage of the new government plan is based on schools remaining open. Everyone in schools are doing their utmost to ensure this happens. It is certainly not the time for school inspectors to arrive with a clipboard and checklists to be ticked to a school leader who has brought their school successfully back to operation in what is a very different reality. In all likelihood, the inspectors have no wish to be used in this manner and it is incumbent on the Department of Education to find more useful and supportive roles for school inspectors, to lift the burden and support leaders in more positive and creative ways.

ENDS

For more information, please contact pro@ippn.ie or David Buckley on 086 8200399

Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 September 2020 16:31

IPPN welcomes plans for the full reopening of schools and seeks further clarity on a number of key issues

Tuesday 28th July 2020

IPPN welcomes the announcement by Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, of plans for a full reopening of school buildings for the 2020/21 school year. It is the sincere wish of all school principals and deputy principals to see all pupils and staff back engaged with face-to-face teaching and learning in safe and stimulating classrooms.

The announcement of this package with less than five weeks to go to the new term means there is a huge amount of work to be done to have all the necessary provisions in place and adjustments made to have schools ready for reopening. IPPN has worked tirelessly along with other education partners to ensure all issues essential to the safe reopening of school buildings and grounds are identified and addressed. We are pleased to say that many issues have been addressed in Minister Foley’s announcement, while answers will continue to be sought on any remaining issues.

IPPN welcomes the announcement of one leadership and management day per week for teaching principals, which has for many years been IPPN’s key priority. Teaching principals need this time on a permanent basis, but we very much welcome the additional leadership time for the coming school year as they deal with COVID-19 risk management on top of an extremely challenging workload. We also welcome the announcement of ‘release’ days for deputy principals in schools where there is an administrative principal, as an acknowledgment of shared leadership and management in our schools, particularly in this time of unprecedented challenge.

The establishment of substitute supply panels across the country for the 2020/21 school year is a positive step. We have concerns, however, that 200 posts distributed across these panels will fall far short of meeting the demand, due to the necessity of teachers to absent themselves from work where any trace of potential coronavirus symptoms are evident. To increase the amount of substitute cover available, the Department should consider allowing PME students to work as substitute teachers when a vacancy arises in the schools where they are completing teaching practice. Clarity in also required in relation to teachers who work across multiple schools, to minimise the potential for cross-contamination.

Every school community will be seeking to ensure that their school operates in a way that is safe and reassuring for pupils, staff, and parents. Ongoing advice and support will be required from the HPSC as schools come to terms with operating class ‘bubbles’ and pods within them, particularly in 3rd to 6th classes, especially in cases where class numbers are large and there are small or off-standard classrooms.

IPPN sought extra financial aid towards cleaning, hygiene materials, and PPE for schools and acknowledges the provision of €40 million and the procurement framework to meet the extra demands as a result of Coronavirus. We would urge that this be monitored on an on-going basis to guarantee that it is sufficient to meet the demands of schools in complying with best-practice regulations. Grant aid towards the employment of an aide to assist with the preparation of schools for a safe return is also welcome.

IPPN had highlighted the extra challenges faced by special schools and schools with special classes and are pleased to acknowledge the plan to employ extra NEPS psychologists to support children for whom the return to the school environment will be especially challenging. We also acknowledge the enhanced per capita and Covid-19 rates payable in respect of students in special settings towards the provision of necessary supports and the extra costs of cleaning in areas of specialist provision. One leadership and management day per week for teaching principals in special schools and 16 release days per year for Deputy Principals of Special schools with an admin principal are also welcome.

Last week’s announcement of €33 million towards a doubling of the Minor Works Grant is welcome. We look forward to more details on the procurement of PPE supplies which, considering the time frame, is urgently needed at this stage by schools anxious to have all safety measures in place for the welfare of pupils and staff.

According to IPPN President Damian White:

‘We have worked very hard with our education partners to support and advise the Department of Education over the past few months on what was needed to bring about a safe school return. We welcome this announcement, albeit later than we had hoped it would come. We highlighted many issues in our submission and most are addressed or are in the process of being sorted. We will continue to press for solutions to remaining issues and to work together with our education partners to achieve workable solutions. IPPN continues to work as normal throughout the summer and will support all school leaders through this time of unprecedented challenge’.

IPPN is operating its Leadership Support service as normal during the summer and is available to support members with their queries and concerns. IPPN has prepared guidance documents and templates for school leaders as they prepare to welcome back staff and students in late August.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 July 2020 15:15

IPPN call for clear guidance for the delivery of Summer Provision programmes and the reopening schools

June 12th 2020

IPPN acknowledge the announcement today (June 12th) of a summer provision programme for children with special needs and students in DEIS schoolsand recognise the importance of these programmes for these children. We are now calling for clear guidelines to be published in order for schools to deliver these programmes in a safe and orderly manner. School leaders above all else recognise the level of need for students with special needs or students suffering disadvantage and wish to support them. However, the significant challenges of school leaders and boards of management in managing the roll out of these programmes in the absence of any formal guidelines must be recognised.

We further acknowledge the publication  of the “Planning for reopening schools in line with the Roadmap for reopening society and business” report to government issued by the Department of Education and Skills today. We are disappointed at the lack of definitive guidelines and clarity in the document which will hinder schools leaders in their efforts to plan for the reopening of their schools.

IPPN President Damian White said:

“This a time of unprecedented challenge for everyone in the school community.The viability of a summer programme without clear and concise guidelines is inconceivable presently. It is imperativethat before the roll out of any such programme that guidelines are released to boards of management and schools leaders for review in a timely fashion to allow for sufficient planning and preparation.”

It is important that all organisations work closely together to ensure that the return to school for children and staff is safe and in keeping with best practices as laid out by NPHET and the HSE. Alongside our formal engagement with the DES, we will be working closely with key stakeholders in the primary education space to ensure a joined up approach in supporting our members.

ENDS

Last Updated: Friday, 12 June 2020 18:26

School Meals during COVID-19 closures - IPPN / INTO Joint Statement

The Department of Education and Skills (DES) has confirmed that the School Meals Scheme will resume from this week, with some notable changes.

 

Following the latest restrictions announced by the Government on Friday, The DES have confirmed that either An Post or local community/voluntary groups, via a Community Champion in each county, may assist schools with the delivery of food to vulnerable pupils under the scheme. Each county has a Community Champion whose role is to direct queries and requests for assistance to local community and voluntary groups.


INTO and the IPPN are advising school principals and Home School Community Liaison Teachers, whose Boards of Management have decided how the scheme will operate in their school, to liaise with school completion services to ensure that pupils from all families who wish to avail of the school meals scheme during the coming weeks, receive the food once a week.

 

INTO and the IPPN wish to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of school principals, and all those working within their school, who continue to implement exceptional measures for the benefit of primary school pupils in these unprecedented times.

 

It is important that all of our members adhere to the advice of government regarding physical distancing, while supporting the school meals initiative.

 

Important Note: Effective 6pm, on Monday 30 March, school buildings will no longer be accessible to school staff until Easter Sunday April 12 (except in the case of school staff who are involved in planning for the distribution of school meals to vulnerable pupils).

 

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Last Updated: Monday, 30 March 2020 12:53

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