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Teachers' union asks government to start school Christmas break a few days earlier

Schools are due to close on Tuesday 22 December; the TUI is suggesting that they instead close on Friday 18 December.

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 18 December rather than on Tuesday 22 December.

The TUI, representing 19,000 post-primary and further education teachers, said that the “once-off measure” would indicate to the Department of Education’s intention “to protect the wellbeing” of teachers, school staff and students.

The teachers union also said that this slightly extended break would allow for a longer lead-in time so that students and teachers can restrict movements before meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives at Christmas, if the public-health guidelines allow for it.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said:

“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.

A survey of 1,500 TUI members carried out last month showed that 23% of respondents said they have an underlying health issue that is of concern during the Covid-19 pandemic, while 31% share a household with somebody who has an underlying health issue, and 11% share a household with somebody over 70 years of age.

In a separate part of the survey, 95% said their work is somewhat or significantly more difficult compared to twelve months ago.

Gillespie said that staff and students are “far more fatigued” than they would be during a ‘normal’ school year, and an earlier break would give them “a significant and much needed boost”.

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.

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