Special school leaders fear staff shortage during Covid-19

Special school leaders fear they won’t have enough workers to stay open through Covid-19 if staff go off sick.

Last week a Belfast SEN school closed less than a fortnight into the phased return of pupils – because they didn’t have enough staff after two tested positive for coronavirus.

Paula Jordan, Principal of Sperrinview Special School in Dungannon, said staff are especially vulnerable because they can’t keep a distance from their students – many of whom need intimate care.

Ms Jordan, who is who is also the chair of the Special Schools Strategic Leadership Group, added: “Our vulnerability comes from the fact that social distancing is not possible in most of our schools.

“Most schools are concerned about the limited numbers of bank staff available to us.

“Schools have their own substitute staff, both teaching and non-teaching, who are familiar with how the school operates.

“However, if large numbers of staff are off, either unwell or in isolation, there most likely will not be enough staff to cover this.”

Last week Fleming Fulton school in south Belfast temporarily closed after two staff were forced to self isolate.

As of last Tuesday, the Department of Education (DoE) had confirmed 88 cases in 64 schools. Just over 87 percent of SEN students in NI returned for the first full of week of term.

Ms Jordan said schools were talking to Department of Education and Education Authority about a solution.

A DoE spokeswoman said: “The Department is working with the Education Authority to examine and record existing data sources relating to Covid-19 including information on teacher attendance.  “We are also considering how best to publish this information in an accurate and timely way. 

“A further £19.2m for PPE has recently been agreed by the Executive and the Department will work with the Education Authority to allocate this funding as soon as possible.

“The Department will continue to monitor funding requirements as schools reopen and as the pandemic progresses.”

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