Big teachers' trade union want schools to close earlier for Christmas due to Covid

Conor Ganly

Reporter:

Conor Ganly

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news@leinsterexpress.ie

classroom

Classrooms were empty from March to September this year due to lockdown

Schools in Laois and other counties should close earlier this Christmas for the wellbeing of the school community due to Covid-19 according to one of Ireland's biggest teaching unions.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) has said that serious consideration should be given to closing schools for the Christmas break on the afternoon of Friday, December 18 rather than on Tuesday, December 22.   

The union says the once-off measure would be a positive signal of the Department’s intention to protect the wellbeing of all in the school community.  The TUI said it would also allow a longer lead-in time for students and teachers to restrict movements before meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives at Christmas, should public health advice at the time allow such family gatherings.   

 Michael Gillespie is the TUI General Secretary

"Recent months have been unprecedentedly difficult and draining for school communities, with a million students returning to recalibrated classrooms that were barely recognisable as those they vacated the previous March.   

"Thanks to the remarkable work of staff, schools have remained open throughout all levels of restrictions, including Level 5. However, stress and anxiety levels remain extremely high as a result of a range of worries and concerns that were not imaginable this time last year," he said.

A statement said that a survey of over 1,500 TUI members carried out last month showed that nearly a quarter of respondents said they have an underlying health issue that is of concern. A further 31% share a household with somebody who has an underlying health issue and 11% share a household with somebody over 70 years of age.   

The TUI said 95% said their work is somewhat or significantly more difficult compared to twelve months ago.   

"This has been an extraordinarily intensive working period, and staff and students are far more fatigued than they would be during a ‘normal’ school year. In this regard, the short extension of the Christmas closure period that we are advocating would be a significant and much-needed boost to the morale of all concerned.   

"Closing schools on the afternoon of Friday, December 18 would also potentially allow students and teachers – together, a significant proportion of the population – to restrict their movements for a longer period before meeting vulnerable relatives – grandparents, particularly – at Christmas, should public health advice at the time permit such gatherings.   

"There is much well-intentioned theorising about the concept of wellbeing in schools, but this would be a real, tangible action that could benefit all in the school community. It could also prove to be a ‘stitch in time’ measure that helps prevent longer absences due to burnout and exhaustion later in the school year," said Mr Gillespe.

The TUI represents teachers and lecturers in post-primary, higher and further education. TUI says it represents over 19,000 members in the education service with 62 branches in 19 areas.

Classrooms were empty from March to September this year due to lockdown. Third level students continue to take classes remotely.