More than 1,000 school staff contracted Covid-19 in last four weeks, new figures reveal
MORE than 1,000 school staff have contracted Covid-19 in the last four weeks, new figures reveal.
Amid continuing concerns of a "staffing crisis" due to increased levels of infection in schools, statistics show over the four -week period up to November 21, there were 1,072 school staff with the virus.
There were 517 primary school-based staff affected, 475 in post-primary and 80 employees in the special education sector.
Teaching unions last night said schools are "under severe pressure to find cover staff" with school leaders left "with nowhere to turn in trying to maintain safe staffing levels".
Last week, the body representing principals and vice-principals said that if the current situation continues then "short-term, temporary closures" will be necessary.
The warning came as teaching unions called for school Christmas shows and carol services to be cancelled.
Graham Gault, president of the NAHT, last night said the number of staff who had contracted Covid-19 was "startling".
"I really hope that those individuals all recover quickly and fully from this awful disease," he said.
"The number of 1,072, startling as it is, does not even come close, however, to the numbers of school-based staff who have had to take time away from school as a result of Covid, be it through contracting the illness, isolating because of close contact with a positive case or caring for children who have been affected.
"In reality, the very high level of Covid-related absence, compounded by the stark unavailability of substitute staff, has left school leaders with nowhere to turn in trying to maintain safe staffing levels in schools.
"It is, therefore, inevitable that we will see more and more instances of schools having to make temporary, short-term closures for cohorts of children until safe staffing levels can be regained. Our principals cannot perform miracles. We all need to be understanding, patient and reasonable in what we expect them to be able to achieve in these extreme circumstances."
The NASUWT also responded to calls for students to be deployed as substitute teachers, describing the proposal as "misguided".
General secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: "There is no doubt that the situation regarding substitute teachers is serious and is getting worse, but calls for student teachers to be deployed as substitute teachers are misguided and fail to address why Covid-19 is rapidly spreading across schools.
"Since Public Health Agency advice changed to re-define a school close contact so narrowly that almost no child was a close contact Covid-19 has spread like wildfire.
"The minister of education needs to use her powers under the Coronavirus Act to force every school to implement robust Covid control measures. To stop the spread of Covid teachers and support staff must be afforded the same protections as all other workers."