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Dublin: 13°C Friday 19 August 2022

'If ever there is a time to reduce class sizes, it is during a pandemic': Opposition react to reopening plan for schools

The government published its plan to reopen schools yesterday.

Image: Sam Boal

OPPOSITION TDS HAVE been reacting to the government’s plan to get children back to school this autumn. 

Yesterday, Cabinet agreed the €370 million plan which will see schoolchildren returning to class at the end of August. 

Education Minister Norma Foley said 1,080 extra teachers will be added to post-primary schools at a cost of €53 million to help reduce class sizes. 

Additional substitution, supervision, guidance counsellors and psychologists will also be included in the package. 

Lunch breaks and school start times are set to be staggered, while the wearing of face coverings will not be compulsory in classrooms.

Face coverings will be compulsory for post-primary students when travelling on or waiting for public transport, with the exception of those with medical or special educational needs.

Labour’s Aodhan Ó Ríordáin has questioned if there was enough teacher supports for primary schools and criticised the failure to reduce class sizes.

“We finally have a plan but it’s late in the day and we don’t know if it can be delivered on time… this plan is late, maybe too late for some schools and the Department will have to accept responsibility if some are not able to reopen fully at the end of August and work with them to address that,” he said.

Despite the promise of over 1,000 extra teacher posts being provided at second level, 600 of them immediately, there is no commitment to a lower pupil teacher ratio at primary level, which Ó Ríordáin describes as “really disappointing”.

On the additional capital investment and capitation supports, he said some schools will be forced to act on their initiative while waiting for guidance.

“Principals and boards of management now have only a few short weeks during August for quick construction and alternation works to be carried out,” he said.

‘Down to the wire’

Education spokesperson for Sinn Féin Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire while he welcomed their is now some clarity for schools, pupils and children, the plan is “right down to the wire”. 

He told that he had reservations that the plan could be achieved in such a short space of time, stating that many of the issues addresses in the plan published yesterday, were well-known back in May and June. 

He questioned why a large-scale recruitment drive for teachers wasn’t launched then, instead of four weeks out. The minister said yesterday that the department would have a national call out for trained, qualified teachers to get back into the classroom.

She said job-sharing teachers will also be asked to do more hours, while the government will attempt to get Irish teachers working abroad to come home. 

If they are trained, Garda vetted and available to work we want them in the classroom, but how is that going to be achieved in three or four weeks,” he asked.

Ó Laoghaire said he too is concerned about class sizes, stating that nearly 20% of pupils are in class sizes of 30 or more. 

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“If ever there was time to reduce class sizes, it is during a pandemic,” he said.

Very little of what is in the plan relates to the level of infection in the community, he added, stating that he doesn’t accept that it took this long to finalised the report.


Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said while there are positive elements in the plan, he also fears that the lateness of the decision will mean that schools will be in a race against the clock to put all the necessary measures in place before students can safely return to school.

“For example, will we have enough builders available in the weeks ahead to be able to carry out the works? In addition, we have 750 post primary schools and there is a very real concern that 1,000 teachers may not be enough if there is a second wave of the virus,” he said. 

The minister said yesterday that she does not envisage an issue with getting builders to carry out the work, stating that schools were very resourceful about getting works done.

“Minister Foley admitted today that the recruitment of secondary school teachers presents more of a challenge and she suggested that some of those on job share arrangements could be brought in full-time as part of the solution. However, some of those teachers may have childcare issues or other commitments that preclude from working additional hours,” said Gannon.

The minister is due to make a statement with questions and answers on the plan in the Dáil on Thursday.

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