Northern Ireland news

One in five schools in NI had to close a class due to staff illness since half-term, according to new survey

A new poll reveals one in five schools in NI have had to close a class due to staff illness since half-term

ONE in five schools in Northern Ireland have had to close a class due to staff illness since half-term, according to a new survey.

Figures from the school leaders’ union NAHT NI also reveal that 10 per cent of principals say they have had to close the whole school.

The head teachers questioned for the poll said staff absences and the inability to secure a substitute teacher since the half-term break were the main reasons for the closures.

The vast majority of principals also revealed they have had five or more Covid cases in one class or year group within one week since the start of the school year.

Figures also show 84 per cent said this had happened one to five times with 16 per cent confirming it had occurred six to 10 or more times.

The survey, which received 162 responses from school principals in the north, also found that since the start of this academic year, 88 per cent of head teachers have had to teach classes to cover for absent staff.

It also found 80 per cent had to supervise pupils to cover for absent classroom assistants.

This comes as new figures revealed that more than 1,000 school staff contracted Covid-19 in the last four weeks.

Liam McGuckin, principal of Greenisland Primary, said staff shortages could "severely impact" classrooms being able to stay open.

"Last week was the worst yet for outbreaks in my school," he said.

"I had to close three classes before Halloween to carry out deep-cleans after pupils tested positive.

"The worry is that new cases among teaching and support staff could severely impact on classrooms staying open due to a chronic lack of substitute teachers.

"I phoned 74 subs on Tuesday, but no-one was available."

Helena Macormac, director of NAHT NI, said: "This snap poll shows the level of disruption schools in Northern Ireland are still suffering due to Covid.

"School leaders are struggling to keep classes going - and even schools open - as staff get ill and isolate and they cannot find substitute teachers.

"We are deeply concerned about the impact this is having on pupils and the wider school community. The inability to find cover is putting enormous strain on teams and is taking leaders away from important duties and responsibilities.

"With current rates of transmission and uncertainty around the new variant, schools cannot continue in this way.

"Principals need to be able to focus on leading their schools through the current crisis and driving educational recovery for the children in their care.

"The government needs to address this crisis urgently - DE (Department of Education) must clearly inform parents that schools may not be able to sustain normal, full-time in-school teaching and learning, and support must be provided to enable schools to provide remote provision if safe staffing levels cannot be secured.

"Principals want nothing more than ‘normal school provision’ to be provided, but this must be done safely."


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