Following coverage in the media and on social media regarding the involvement of the Inspectorate in COVID Compliance Inspections in the schools, I would like to clarify the situation.
NAPD, the 3 Management Bodies, the 2 Teacher Unions, the National Parents Council, the Irish Second Level Students Union and the Ombudsman for Children attended a briefing with the Inspectorate. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is responsible for ensuring COVID compliance in the workplace. Schools are workplaces and the Inspectorate is responsible for ensuring compliance in the education sector. A Memorandum of Understanding in this regard has been agreed between the HSA and the Department. The briefing was to explore how best the Inspectorate could undertake this role in the context of their commitment to the school system that their involvement with schools would be supporting this term rather than evaluative. The model used in Child Protection Inspections involved a small number of pilot schools to refine the process and iron out any challenges for schools. The meeting agreed a similar process for the COVID Inspections. A small number of schools will be asked to participate in the pilot. Notice will be given.
The areas to be covered in the Inspectors visit will be identified to the school in advance. There will be engagement with the principal, the lead worker, some staff and students to enquire how the school is operating, to examine hand sanitisers, signage and additional cleaning to ensure the safety of all in the school. The inspector will also take the opportunity to ensure that the name of the DLP is prominently displayed in the building. The tone of the meeting was positive and collaborative. All present realised the need for the visits to take place in the context of the HSA Memorandum. The visit should last no more than a couple of hours. Notice will be given, and no report will be published in the pilot phase. Schools will be able to indicate what additional supports or resources would assist in running the school. I recognise the frustration of members but wish to assure you that the stress that school leaders are experiencing was conveyed forcefully to the meeting. Inspectors understand the workings of schools and I would prefer to have a co-professional discussion with an inspector rather than an unannounced inspection from the HSA.
Several colleagues have been in contact to express their concerns about the holding of the state exams in November and December. NAPD and the management bodies have been in contact with State Exams and has emphasised the challenges involved in holding the exams in schools at that time. NAPD has told the SEC that principals and deputy principals will not be available at night-time and weekends to run the exams and the SEC has agreed to make resources available to minimise the impact on school management. Further discussions will take place when there is an indication of the numbers who may wish to sit the exam. Rest assured that the SEC will fund the additional supports necessary to prepare for the holding of the exams and arrange for appropriate cleaning before and after each exam to enable the school to operate as normal. Schools can appoint an aide for 13 days before the exams begin and during the exams. The SEC will appoint an external superintendent to deal with the distribution of exam papers and the management of data associated with the exams. Detailed guidance will issue to each school when the numbers of students who will sit the exams are known. Students will be able to indicate whether they wish to sit an exam during the week of the 28th September.
Some colleagues have asked who is speaking for school leaders and when is NAPD going to take a stand say enough is enough. Rest assured that NAPD is articulating your concerns in every forum available and will continue to do so. While some might like a higher profile beating a louder drum in the media and on social media, our strategy has been to get on with our work representing your interests quietly and effectively. “Is iad na muca ciúine a itheann an min” and in the discussions on calculated grades, COVID reopening, inspections, masks/face coverings and additional resources to support school leaders into the future we will always do our best. School leaders are tired and frustrated. We will be organising regional Zoom meetings over the next while to explore all avenues to help us come through this horrible pandemic. Schools are at the heart of the community and society. Your leadership is vital to the success of the campaign to control the spread of the virus. Thanks for all you are doing and have done since March – much of it unseen and largely unheralded but you know the enormous part you’ve played in getting us to where we are today.