Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills

Engagement with Trade Unions on Keeping Schools Open: Discussion

Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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I thank the trade union representatives for their presentations. It is timely and necessary that the unions address this committee so I am glad to see it happen. I have a couple of points which I will mention in passing as they have been addressed. I echo the concerns around PPE for SNA staff. It is untenable to claim that an SNA can maintain a 2 m distance from the child he or she is working with. I also want address the point about the inadequacy of our built school environment and the age of the building stock. I was struck by a line in Mr. Gillespie's submission about reconceptualising school design. That would be a very interesting point for this committee to come back to at some point in the future when we could look at how the physical design of our school infrastructure can affect teaching and learning outcomes.

We should consider the ventilation issue in a wider context, not just a Covid one, because if we improve ventilation systems in our schools, that will reduce the transmissibility of other diseases. Thankfully, Covid does not seem to find a reservoir in our younger population but other transmissible diseases do.

That brings me to the issue of the flu vaccine, raised by Mr. Boyle. When I was in the classroom, I used to get the flu jab for exactly that reason, namely, to take five days of sickness out of the equation for myself. That is not possible this year. We had 1.35 million doses but the demand has been great. As I understand it, some of the children's vaccine is still available. It is very effective and free at the point of use up to 12 years of age. There is perhaps a role for the INTO in publicising and pushing that because if we begin to break the chain of transmission at a school level, it will be very useful.