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That Pat Kenny show on news talk. All this week as part of our Back to school series will be finding out whether schools are ready to open and what lies ahead for thousands of pupils, school staff and parents in a world living with covid-19. Yesterday, we explored the particular challenges for primary schools reopening. Today, we're focusing on secondary schools and what lies ahead for everybody. And on the line, the principal of Gloucester region in Kanou in Wicklow, Linda Dunn, also will be talking to Irish Second Bevell Schools Union President Reuben Murray and the president of the SDI Unpegged will be talking to us as well.
But, Linda, first of all, good morning.
Good morning, Pat. Are you ready?
Oh, ever ready? Like the batteries? No, no. Look, we're walking away and we all want students back. And it's not without anxiety for everybody involved, for our students, teachers, parents. And but, look, it's been it's been a logistical nightmare because we are working through it and getting there. And we look forward to having our teachers back at the end of the week and our students on a staggered basis next week.
So talk to me about the changes that you've had to make and have you had the help you need from government to make them?
Well, I would like to say that the support given from government in relation to extra resources, you know, has been very, very good. And it has helped hugely because normally, you know, we're scrimping and saving and whatever, and we are able to make changes that we need to make and albeit small. But, you know, they'll they'll help us out in the long run. And we timetabling wise, yes, we we've done numerous timetables this year, but we are we are looking at a staggered timetable because we are a school of 930 students which will be enrolled in September.
And the school was originally designed for 550. So we've minimum, minimum indoor and outdoor space. And so we have to make things happen to make it as safe as possible. And where where possible students would be allocated a room. But however, there will be movement needed for science and practical, you know, labs and things like that. In practical subjects. It will be a big change for teachers, you know, who would have been used to having maybe their own room and students coming to them.
And we are conscious of that. And, you know, in order to facilitate that, they had to make huge clean outs and move all sorts of, you know, equipment. And we've had our AIDS, which was granted through the government system as well. And they've been moving furniture and all sorts of things. So, you know, there's a lot of you know, we're looking at an external walkway that we have on land where our new building project is hopefully going to start quite soon.
And external covering seating areas. We have a fully we have to have a fully One-Way system and everybody has to to follow it. So to keep space, you know, and I suppose we've been working on it's all about increased separation and decreased interaction. And that's what, you know, the Department of Education have been, you know, specifying and and encouraging us all to do. And I think if we look at the idea of increased separation and decreased interaction, it's not going to be perfect.
But we all have a collective responsibility.
Now, secondary school students are required to wear masks. Have you got, you know, a protocol, a set of rules for the students? Do they bring their own if they forget their mask? What happens if it's one of those disposable medical masks? How do we know how old it is, all that sort of stuff?
Yes, we have asked and we've been in constant touch with parents right throughout the lockdown. And I call them if it's OK to say my Leo Varadkar moments sometimes, you know, and we've been in touch with parents and I hope parents feel that we have supported them. And we have asked that students would have an extra pack or an extra pencil case or whatever with their own hand sanitizing and their wipes and their pack of three masks, washable ones. Washable ones, yes, so they can recycle them and so on.
Now, sometimes you talk about the students staying in the same room, but there will be some movement.
You know, sometimes half the class might be doing Spanish. I'm not sure what languages that you have. The other half might be doing French or German or whatever it might be. How do you cope with that kind of movement, too?
Well, it is it's much more difficult, as you've acknowledged earlier, than in primary schools. You know, that you can have a definite bubble. But we will we are looking at and our heads are looking at the possibility of reducing, you know, the contact that students will have. But it is it's very tricky in a in a secondary school. I mean, you know, as I said, we have nine hundred and thirty students in a school built for 550.
You know, some of our corridors from the 80s buildings are not even two meters wide. So, you know, it's difficult. But I think, you know, we have to remain positive. You know, we all want to get back. It's a journey. Unfortunately, we don't have control over it. And we like to have control. And there will be challenges and setbacks and we will have to just follow the guidelines and do the best that we possibly can in every sense of the word.
Now, two things that have cropped up, staff rooms. Have you closed down your staff room? Because obviously teachers mixing with teachers potential for infection and lunchtimes because you're a rural school. So where are the kids to go at lunchtime? How are you going to handle all of that?
Well, our staff room was never fit for purpose. And, you know, given that our staff are so positive and just get on with things, you know, the staff and will be used as a workroom because teachers will be out of rooms now, you know, and we will you know, a staff can only take 24 staff. We have a staff of almost 70 that will have to be, you know, pods in various rooms, you know, with the same teachers eating at the same time.
But, you know, I don't think that's the big issue. You know, it is an issue in relation to, you know, our staff would be very much positive and they get together and, you know, have a bit of fun and whatever. But, you know, it's different times and we just all have to make the best of it as we possibly can. It's not ideal, but there's very little that's ideal at the moment. And it's about a change of mind and the change of, you know, how we do go about things really in relation to the time for students.
By the way, at lunchtime, for the students, I mean, 70 people, i.e. teachers. And then obviously you might have caretaking staff and so on. But that's one thing, 900 students having lunch. How do they go about that? Well, that's it.
We're looking at the creating extra covered seating outside at the moment. And what we don't need is a wet day like today, like your Bantry as speaker was talking about earlier, because that is just, you know, a nightmare will be a nightmare. We're hoping that, you know, the weather will be kind to us maybe when we get back, but we will have to use classrooms for students. We will. We've done as much as teachers can't park in the teacher car park anymore.
That would be an area for students as well. And we are looking at a new walkway. I think, you know, students will, you know, have to eat whether they are to preorder in the canteen, eat, and then they won't be able to necessarily sit for the 40 minutes. They will move around the school and, you know, keep their distance and be conscious about it. But it's not going to be simple with nine hundred eating at the one time because we we have the staggered you know, we have the staggered lunch.
We'll have three groups out at each time.
And and you also have to have your isolation room. If someone should feel unwell and there's a possibility of being infected with covid-19 huge challenges.
We do and we have we've been very creative in relation to a lot of things. And they are to Jim, changing rooms because we we just don't have space. So but that would work because students who do PE will come in and again, not ideal, but they won't wear the uniform in on the days that they have PE. It's the best we can come up with for the moment. And look, everything will have to be reviewed on a very regular basis.
And just to see if you know what we think it might work now, may not work, you know, and we'll have to look at it. And we have our our team, you know, with our lead workers and our covert officer, you know, so it's it's an everybody has worked so hard to make this happen. You know, we and I think like all other schools around the country, everybody's giving it their very, very best.
And, you know, that's that's really all we can do. We a lot of our students come in by bus. Now, there's a huge lack of clarity around that. And it has been unhelpful, I think, for parents and students at such a late stage, you know, but again, hopefully we get clarity on your classrooms.
Are they all open to. The fresh air, if you have your windows, you can leave open because some people are asking you, have you got filters, air filters in the classrooms, have your air conditioning, know all of our ads on your spiked despite the sizes of them?
They're not all the forty nine square meters plus, you know, despite that they are all open to outside. Yeah.
So you can at least have the, the fresh air blowing through, even if it's a bit chilly. A better chilly and safe than muggy and unsafe.
All right. Just one question I have to put to you from listener MO. Secondary schools have been meeting up all summer, so really there's no need to be so. And I was wondering about that because they have been mixing together in the local parks. I see them all the time that there's no social distance worth talking about, often large groups. And, you know, when you're trying to tell them in school, then you have to behave differently than the way you did all summer and you've come to no harm.
That might be an issue. I think, you know, the induction back into school will be will be significant, you know, and we you know, we will have to it'll be a big change for students. Absolutely. But, you know, there will have to be the separation and the less interaction in school for the safety of everybody. You know, because groups of friends have been meeting, you know, there are students who are compromised and teachers who are compromised, our staff who are compromised, you know, and it will have to be, you know, a big focus on induction and pastoral care and taking time, you know, and making them aware of, you know, this is a much different environment than when you left on the 12th of March.
And we all are in this together. We all have a collective responsibility and everybody has to play their part. It's easier said than done. But, you know, if we started off on the right foot, hopefully it will work for us.
Well, hopefully it will. Linda, thank you very much for talking to us. Linda Dunn is the principal of Collective Regia in Kanou in Wicklow.
Listen to that conversation. Murray at the Irish Second Level, Schools Union.
President Rubin, good morning. Good morning, how are you? I'm very well. Now, are you guys concerned about people returning to school or do you think that by and large they're doing the best that is possible under the circumstances, bearing in mind, I suppose, what's been happening all over Europe?
What's very important to recognize that all the effort that's been put in by school leaders and principals and students are very thankful for that. But there are some areas where students are worried. Linda said that she has a school of nine hundred and thirty students that built for five hundred fifty. And there is a worry among students, considering the guidelines that were put out by the government. Six people in a room together is Waterlow out in doors, but now there will be nine hundred students going into schools.
So the worry is what's the rationale behind that? Can the department explain how it is safe for schools to return? That's what we've been hearing from students. And as Linda also mentioned, public transport. That's a key area that students are worried about because people are told to avoid public transport where possible. But now students rely on. You seem to have lost Ruben, I get his point. Those people rely on public transport. Sometimes with school buses, you can lay down the rules, you can have our 50 percent capacity and so on.
But when it comes to public transport, you're mixing it with the rest. Yes. Ruban, carry on. Sorry, pardon me, but they also we're waiting for some clarity. Hello. Is there contingency plans? So what will happen in the event that there is a Kobe case in a school? What's the protocol? What will happen? What threshold, how many cases will take for school to close? How many cases will take for the national all schools to close?
These are questions that haven't been answered yet. And with schools so close to returning, it's very important that this information is brought forward because it's not knowing, it adds to the stress, adds to the anxiety and what are. We can relieve some of that on parents, on teachers, on students. I think we should and these are the key areas where we need this information to come forward. OK, so you're calling on the minister to bring forward the rules and regulations so that everyone knows so many cases, the class all go home and self isolate so many more cases than the school closes and they isolate for a fortnight, that kind of thing.
Well, Ruben, thank you. Your line is too dodgy, I think, to continue our conversation. But the president of the association, Pigott, is on the line. And good morning.
Hello. Now, listening to Linda, I mean, Linda is very positive. Talk about, you know, embracing the challenge. And I'm very impressed with what Linda's doing. But the SDI has its concerns.
Yes, and I'm also very impressed with what principles all over the country have done to try and make this happen, but we have very serious concerns and our most pressing concern at the moment are the teachers in the high risk category. So teachers who might have heart disease, diabetes and serious diabetes with chronic kidney disease or cancer is there in a high risk category and they're being deemed fit for work. So while they are medically faced an enormous situation, if they go into schools and there's an outbreak of covid, their lives are at serious risk.
And we are we have written to the Health Protection Surveillance Center for a meeting. They haven't been prepared to meet us. So we have now written to the Minister for Health to arrange this meeting. And we need to look at these instances of teachers. And we would like provision to be made whereby they could work remotely at school with perhaps vulnerable students who will also not be in the classroom. So provision be made within a school complex for a, if you like, almost an isolation area where those teachers could work, but I mean secondary teachers operate by subject.
So, you know, you can't ask the English teacher to teach science to vulnerable children who want to do science.
So we are suggesting that that could be within the school area or it could also be at home. And yes, I know you can't, but I presume we would have a range of subjects, teachers and a certain amount of students to match them up. So I think that would be possible because we have to consider the seriousness of a teacher whose life is at risk in these settings.
The idea of a remote teaching, I mean, is the technology available widely where a teacher could actually, you know, do remote teaching even with the screen in the classroom? So the kids are all in the classroom, the non vulnerable ones and the teachers at home. Well, I suppose the non vulnerable students in school would have their teachers in school and then, as I said already, the vulnerable students would be matched up with the vulnerable teachers. And the teachers have done this from March to June and sometimes using their own computers, money was made available for schools already.
And our union would also ask perhaps this provision of laptops would be made available for everybody, because it's not just now also for the the vulnerable situations. You just spoke to the student representative there about cases in schools that might grow and schools may certain parts of schools might have to close in the future. And we do need to plan B to be ready for that as well. So the government also needs to look at preparing for those events and providing laptops for everybody.
Laptops for everybody, are you talking about the teaching staff or the students and everybody, one and all?
Well, teaching staff definitely. And perhaps the students who mightn't have access to them at home. So you would have students in direct provision centuries or students in disadvantaged areas who wouldn't have them. And a lot of students would already have their own facilities, but particularly teachers we would like to focus on.
What about that information from the U.K. last week, which suggested that the students are more in danger from the teachers than they are from each other and that the teachers have very little danger from the students? That's the way this thing works.
Well, I'm not sure. I suppose nobody really knows how this virus works completely. There have been instances of students who have been sick with covid, but teachers are more vulnerable. I suppose it seems to be that the older you are, the more vulnerable you are. And teachers are moving from room to room. Students will be in their own room, largely contained within their year groups. But teachers are moving from one place to another. And if they do that six times a day with 30 students in a room, they're meeting one hundred and eighty students per day.
And so, yes, I would agree that the teachers are probably very much in danger from from of picking up more than the students would be. So can we clarify, is the instruction from the department that every teacher goes back to work late this week or early next week, that schools are open, that there will be no remote learning? That's not the plan. Well, we are seeking a meeting just to just to accommodate our very our our vulnerable teachers.
I don't think it would be that money. It might not even be one preschool. And the other point is its accommodation isn't made for them now. Chances are they won't be in school in the future because they'll feel sick or they'll feel too vulnerable to be in there and a sub will have to be found anyway. But largely schools will be open and teachers are getting ready to go in. We also have disturbing contact as well from teachers who are telling us that a hundred or more teachers are expected to be in gyms to go for staff meetings.
And so they're gathering in large numbers. I don't think this is acceptable either.
And they could do staff members who are in smaller groups, if they're all wearing masks at that staff meeting and hand sanitizing and, you know, spreading out under the gym, all the doors are flung open. So there's good ventilation.
You see getting a text from a listener here. Is it just me? But are teachers being a bit precious in comparison to many others, especially nurses, doctors and even people working in supermarkets?
So I do agree nurses and doctors are doing a fantastic job and people in supermarkets are behind perspex screens. Some schools have provided screens, but a lot of schools haven't. Teachers, I have a job like most other people don't. We're going into rooms with high numbers, very high numbers, and we're moving around the school. And for that reason, we are vulnerable and our lives are precious. We agree with us and we would like all the safety precautions that can be made to be made ahead of teachers going back.
But I don't think that more than 100 staff in one area is acceptable. And likewise, it's not just the teachers, it's the students. I have heard reports that students might all be gathered in huge assembly areas, so maybe one hundred and fifty students in the schools in an assembly area. Likewise, I don't think that's very safe for students and I don't think assemblies should be happening in such huge numbers. After all, we've been told that we shouldn't be gathering at more than six in our homes or other areas.
So we shouldn't be having 150 or 160 students or likewise large numbers of staff gathering together. Basically, you're saying don't open the schools. I'm not saying that's all I'm saying open the schools. Our teachers want to be back at schools. Our teachers want to meet their students.
They want they want to work sex in a classroom with the numbers we have.
So if you're going to say no, but but replicate the social situation in at home where you can only have six people in your home. If you want to replicate that in schools, that's an impossibility.
I was using the six as a comparison to the hundred and fifty. If thirty students are in the classroom or 24 seems to be the number that's coming up in most classrooms if they're in a classroom and if they're socially distanced a meter apart shoulder to shoulder in every direction. And that is fine. That is the health advice that is being used in all schools. And students will be wearing masks. That should be OK. But we are not OK with hundreds of people in the one area.
Yeah. All right.
On that note, I hope you have your meeting with the minister. It's, you know, getting very late in the day. We've known about this since last March when the schools closed down, that someday they would be reopening. And I know many teachers were in their classrooms clearing out and doing Trojan work during the summer. But it all does seem very 11th hour out of the way. Things are working at the moment. Someone else mentioning the sneeze, the vulnerability that they will be exposed to, given that they work up close and personal with their student companions.
So we should think of them as well.