Number of Covid-related absences among teachers falls by 50%, figures show

The number of teachers absent for Covid reasons has dropped significantly, according to new figures.

A total of 7,128 teachers were on Covid-related leave after testing positive or being identified as close contacts in February, down 50% from a record 14,390 teachers in January.

February’s Covid absences are the lowest on record since October last year.

Education sources say the drop is likely to reflect a number of factors, including lower infection rates in the community, changed close contact rules and the week-long half-term break.

Teachers’ unions, however, say Covid remains a concern in schools and say the ‘dismantling’ of public health supports means it is difficult to establish the true spread of the virus in classrooms .

Since schools returned after midterm on February 28, students and staff are no longer required to wear face masks.

Guidelines issued to schools by the Department for Education state that “in general, schools should now resume normal school routines and normal teaching and learning activities”.

The requirement for pods, social distancing and staggered breaks have been lifted, although infection prevention and control measures remain such as ventilation, hand hygiene measures and advice to stay at home in case of symptoms.

Teachers’ unions expressed concern and caution last week over the relaxation of rules on face masks and social distancing.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said the move could be “premature”, while the Secondary Teachers’ Association of Ireland said it would “continue to urge caution”.

Ireland’s National Organization of Teachers said it was extremely concerned about people with underlying health conditions and pregnant staff who had to work in “crowded environments, teaching the largest cohort of unventilated people in the world”. country”.

He said 100,000 school-age children have tested positive for Covid-19 since Christmas, with an average of 75 children under the age of 14 hospitalized each week.

He warned that the run-up to Easter will continue to prove difficult and disruptive for many primary and special schools.

The union says it wants locum panels to be expanded to areas not currently covered by the program.

It also seeks to accelerate class size reductions to bring Ireland into line with the rest of Europe, in conjunction with increased support for children with additional needs and those whose learning has been negatively affected during the pandemic.

The overall level of teacher absences, meanwhile, has also led to increased spending on substitute teachers.

It is estimated that the cost of substitute teachers in 2021 will be around 300 million euros, compared to 244 million euros the previous year.

Education Minister Norma Foley said this improved replacement cover had been key to keeping schools open.

At the primary level, a total of 680 teachers are employed full-time in supply panels that cover approximately 2,700 schools.

In addition, there have also been changes that allow teachers on career breaks to do unlimited replacement, as well as changes to allow teachers on shared posts to do replacement work on the days they are enrolled.

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