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Schools fear losing teachers due to Covid-linked pupil absences

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Schools have expressed concern ahead of Wednesday’s annual school census that they risk losing teachers due to the continued absence of pupils because of Covid-19.

Every year schools are required to file annual returns showing their enrolments on September 30th. These determine how many teachers are allocated to a school and how much capitation funding is provided.

However, some schools say significant numbers of students have not yet returned due to health concerns linked to Covid-19.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) said it wanted the census date pushed back later or a guarantee from the Department of Education that schools would not lose out due to delayed return of students.

“We’ve had 13 meetings with schools in different counties so far this autumn and this has been raised as a real concern at all of them,” said IPPN chief executive Páiric Clerkin.

“Schools fear they will lose staff because all their pupils haven’t yet returned. Some are in families where there is a high risk family member and they are waiting to see how things progress. If a school loses just one or two pupils, in some cases, that can be the difference between keeping a teacher and losing one.”

This year, for example, a total of 428 primary schools have lost a school teacher due to falling enrolments based on school census returns completed on September 30th, 2019.

New schools

Mr Clerkin said it was a particular concern in new schools, which were pre-allocated teachers based on anticipated pupil numbers. He said, anecdotally, many children who had yet to return to school were in homes where there was a “high risk” family member.

While pupils in homes where a pupil or family member is considered “very high risk” are entitled to remote tuition, this does not necessarily apply to those in “high risk” categories.

In response to a query, a spokesman for the Department of Education said the key factor for determining the level of staffing provided at individual school level for the current school year is the staffing schedule for the 2020/21 school year and pupil enrolments on 30th September 2019.

Primary schools are currently provided with class teachers on the basis of one teacher for every 26 pupils which is at its historically lowest level.

The spokesman said schools which do not meet the required enrolment on September 30th have the option to submit a staffing appeal in to the appeals board in October.

He said the department will consider appeals where schools “clearly demonstrate how their enrolments were negatively impacted by Covid-19.”

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