Response of schools to challenges of pandemic praised a diocesan synod
No one will take for granted the importance of schools and teachers in our children’s lives again, Dublin & Glendalough Diocesan Synods heard last week. The tireless efforts of school communities in ensuring that schools responded effectively to the challenges of Covid–19 were acknowledged by the Board of Education. Proposing the board’s report, Joyce Perdue, who is also principal of Rathfarnham Parish National School, said that while the past two years had been difficult there had been positives that could be used to advance education in the future.
“Although we’re all sick of talking about it, there is no doubt about the unprecedented impact the covid pandemic has had on children, parents and teachers. As a school principal for many years I thought the Foot and Mouth outbreak back in 2001 would be the greatest health challenge I would have to deal with in my career, and could never have foreseen something like covid coming down the line! However, principals are now experts in the consistency, chemicals and composition of hand sanitiser as well as being the go to person on covid symptoms in the school,” she stated.
Ms Perdue said that being closed for so much of the last school year was very difficult and commended school communities for working together in creative and innovative ways. Regular assemblies were an important part of maintaining a sense of community and togetherness in schools and during lockdown the online assemblies from the Church of Ireland Centre in DCU were a very welcome resource, she added.
She welcomed the decision by the HSE not to identify and exclude close contacts in schools as it was very difficult for teachers to do their jobs when one half of a class was at school and the other at home. She also welcomed the Department of Education’s broadening of the July provision programme and the recently announced Covid Learning and Support Scheme.
Ms Perdue highlighted the shortage of substitute teachers which sees principals having to redeploy special education teachers into classrooms on a daily basis, thus impacting children with additional needs. She said the pilot Substitute Supply Panels were a great success and should be rolled out nationwide. Difficulty recruiting principals was also outlined and Ms Perdue maintained that the post of teaching principal had become increasingly unattractive.
Speaking to the report, Canon Gillian Wharton (Booterstown and Carysfort with Mount Merrion) agreed with the proposer on the difficulties in recruiting and resourcing teaching principals. “The pressure on teaching principals is enormous and it is not an attractive enough job for people to want to do it,” she stated. She asked both the Diocesan Board of Education and the Board of Education to bring the issue to the attention of the department.
The Revd Stephen Farrell (Zion) said that like many parents, he felt that learning from home took years off his life. “If there was any complaints structure in place I would not have lasted long in my role as teacher… I had my heart swelled within me when I saw an open school door again. I express my gratitude to all those in schools,” he commented.