10 September 2020
By Tom Collins
Sinn Féin TD for Cork East Pat Buckley says that figures showing that there are 147 schools in Cork county with 30 or more children underline the challenges faced by schools to remain open during the pandemic.
Sinn Féin this week launched its ‘Keeping Our Schools Open’ document which outlines key proposals to ensure safe education for children during Covid-19.
Pat Buckley said:
“I welcomed the reopening of schools but there remain many significant challenges. We need to now ensure that the school doors can remain open, overcrowding is a massive issue that has gone on far too long and now presents not just a educational risk but a health risk.
“Our schools operate in an underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded education system.
“Classes that are far too big, in buildings too small, and not fit for purpose are the norm. There are 147 schools across the county area with classes of 30 or more kids.
“Cork county has more than double the amount of schools with overcrowding as Dublin city has despite significantly lower population.
“Sinn Féin wants to abolish all classes of over 30 kids and never allow them to return, and work towards attaining an EU average of 20 children per class.
“We want an immediate audit of school buildings to be undertaken, which identifies those schools that are struggling most to comply with social distancing and that require additional space.
“We commit to a fund of €300m, which will be used to create additional space for schools that need it the most.
“Keeping the virus out of schools, and keeping schools open, also means supporting parents to do the right thing and keep symptomatic children at home.
“An assurance is needed that parents who must stay at home with their child are not out of pocket for doing so. We propose the expansion of force majeure leave to allow parents to take paid time off to look after children isolating.
“School children and staff who are symptomatic must be given priority for rapid testing, so that staff can return to work, and children can return to school rapidly.
“Existing educational disadvantages have come to the fore during the pandemic. Children with special educational needs are the cohort who have missed out the most.
“We are concerned that special education teachers will be pulled from pillar to post to cover absences, breaks and remote learning. We want to recruit 500 additional SNAs, to ensure that no child loses out.
“Finally, the bus fleet must increase so that whilst social distancing and safer transport of the 120,000 children who take part in the School Transport Scheme can be ensured, this does not come at the cost of some losing their seat on a school bus.
“Keeping our schools open is essential, and Sinn Féin wants to be constructive. With the policies contained in our ‘Keeping Schools Open’ document, coupled with adequate funding and supports, we can ensure that schools are in a position where they can remain open now and into the future.
“Our key proposals are:
- Class Sizes and Space: An audit of school buildings to identify schools struggling most with lack of space, and a commitment of €300m to address this. Abolishing all classes of over 30 kids, and working towards attaining a pupil-teacher ratio of 20:1 at a cost of €72m;
- Protecting Jobs and Incomes: An expansion of force majeure leave for parents who must stay at home to mind a child who is self-isolating;
- No Child Left Behind: Recruitment of 500 additional SNAs at a cost of €14.4m;
- Rapid Testing: The introduction of rapid, priority testing for all symptomatic students and staff;
- School Transport: Increasing the bus fleet so that no child loses their seat on a bus.”