Tuesday, November 23, 2021

CARLOW schools have been struggling amid the latest wave of Covid-19, with droves of students and teachers absent.

One local school reported a pupil attendance figure of 70%, while 37 schools in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin have advertised teaching posts in the past week.

Teacher absences are leading to a situation where unqualified people are overseeing classes, including student teachers and educators who are not qualified for primary schools. Some are understood to be people with degrees and garda vetting.

Simon Lewis, principal of Carlow Educate Together NS, said: “Pupils are not getting taught in those cases. They are getting minded. That has some benefit, in that classes are not being closed, but children aren’t getting consistently educated across the country.”

It has been challenging for local schools, which have a substitute panel of just three teachers for 18 schools.

I have needed a substitute every day this year, bar one. We are one school out of 18,” said Mr Lewis. “You get people where you can.”

Carlow Educate Together was in the throes of a Covid outbreak on Monday, with a record low attendance of 70%. Mr Lewis had concerns for vulnerable children in the long term if absences among pupils and teachers continued.

There will be children who will get through this … have families that can support their learning when they are not in school. But then you have other more vulnerable families … children with additional needs, poverty situations. What will probably happen is the gap between the haves and the have nots will widen really,” he said.

Fergal Browne, principal of St Joseph’s Primary School in Carlow town, said that securing substitute cover had been very challenging.

There have been days when we haven’t been able to get a sub,” he said. “We have been lucky to have student teachers on work placement. We have kept the show on the road, that’s the most important thing. We have also used retired teachers.”

Mr Browne believed the rise of respiratory illnesses with symptoms similar to coronavirus has exacerbated matters nationally.

There was scepticism about the roll-out of antigen testing in schools nationally and the impact they would have. Mr Browne said he was aware of people who had experienced contradictory results from antigen tests when compared with a PCR test.

Ultimately, the PCR test is the barometer you look for,” said Mr Browne.

Startling information about what is happening at local schools has also been revealed in two recently-published surveys. A survey by the INTO teachers’ union indicated that 2.1% of Carlow students tested positive for Covid-19 in a two-week period between 1 and 16 November. Nationally, 31% of teacher absences were not being covered.

According to a survey of its schools by the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, 37% of all absences were being covered by special education teachers and principals. In total, 40% are being taught by unqualified people.

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