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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

‘While the Department and unions bicker, our children remain in educational limbo’

by Amanda Cassidy
25th Jan 2021

Attempts to bring children with additional learning needs back to schools early have failed. The second u-turn in as many weeks when it comes to trying to get all students back to education. What will it take for the unions to feel safe? Amanda Cassidy reports

“Unacceptable” – that’s how Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald described this week’s educational shambles.

“The Taoiseach just doesn’t get it. Norma Foley and Josepha Madigan have failed to deliver the reopening of schools for children with special and additional needs and now rush to blame teachers and SNAs in an attempt to divide the special needs community” she said in the Dail yesterday. 

In a terse statement released this week, the Department of Education laid the blame for the failure to reopen certain schools at the feet of the unions.

“It was the result of a lack of co-operation by key staff unions in the primary sector.” Speaking on Newstalk, Minister Foley pointed out that health experts such as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn communicated to teachers that the plan to partially reopen schools was ‘acceptable and doable’.


Of course, the recent surge in cases currently is a moment of high anxiety for everyone, but the Minister also said she believes “providing education for children with special needs must and should be an essential service.

She also noted that children with special needs were ‘significantly disadvantaged’ during the first lockdown, and it was a ‘traumatic’ experience for many families.


Meanwhile, the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), John Boyle believes that “a culture of blame” is not going to solve the issue of when schools should reopen.

He cited heightened levels of anxiety among teachers. The number of Covid cases needed to be reduced before schools could reopen, he said.m“We’ve asked for a rethink, we are all extremely nervous.”

But the question is what will it take for the unions to feel safe? How many cases is acceptable before schools can go back? It seems unlikely that they will miraculously agree to go back on February 1st as was planned.

We cannot let the tail wag the dog but equally, there is a responsibility on government to make sure State employees feel safe.


Frontline workers have obligations when it comes to performing their jobs. Perhaps the issue here is the non-designation of teachers as such workers. As such the teachers and SNA’s (or ADA which is the preferred term) should also be offered the vaccinations as a priority.

We cannot let the tail wag the dog but equally, there is a responsibility on government to make sure State employees feel safe.

And behind all of this mess are children stuck at home – some with additional needs, who are in limbo not knowing when and if they can go back to school. This isn’t just about learning – we have the machines for that – this is about socialisation, about routine, about a haven from difficult situations.

So don’t pretend this current quarrel isn’t at the expense of our children, because it very much is.

Image via unsplash.com 

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