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Principals seek flexibility on Covid catch-up hours

Second-level principals are concerned that they may not be able to find enough teachers to deliver the Covid catch-up hours to pupils.

he scheme announced by Education Minister Norma Foley will allow every school an allocation of additional teaching hours to support student learning and wellbeing after the disruption of the past two years.

But the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) says a shortage of teachers in key areas is presenting challenges to its successful roll-out.

Schools can decide how best to tailor the extra hours to meet needs of their pupils, ranging from filling gaps in learning to delivering extra-curricular activities to foster a sense of safety, calm, and connectedness.

Principals have been told that the hours must go to registered teachers, but the NAPD is seeking flexibility to buy in outside expertise and raised the issue with Ms Foley at its annual conference

The €53m Covid Learning and Supports Scheme (CLASS) was launched last month and, in a medium to large second level school, amounts to the equivalent of at least another teacher for the current school year.

Former NAPD president Alan Money told the minister that many students had struggled in isolation over the past 18 months “and since returning to school they’ve continued to struggle to a certain extent.”

He said the CLASS hours were “absolutely invaluable” and would allow schools to support, and students who struggled the most , but the biggest challenge was recruiting teachers who were appropriately qualified.

Mr Mongey said from speaking to other principals, “it seems as though many of those hours may go unused purely on the basis that we can’t recruit suitably qualified teachers to fill those positions.”

He noted that the scheme allowed for the hours to be used for activities such as drama, art, and music to support students most affected by Covid, and he asked if they couldn’t recruit appropriately qualified teachers could they buy-in such services from outside.

Ms Foley said it was important that there would be a teaching background to what’s being delivered in schools, but said she would keep the matter under review.

NAPD director Paul Crone said the staff recruitment was a huge source of stress for school leaders.

He said what they were seeking were creative solutions allowing, for instance, the use of sporting organisation or drama groups, in situations where schools could not recruit a qualified teacher.

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