August 25, 2020

Back to School: Challenges for Irish Society

My Letter in Today's Irish Times

Roadmaps, pods and bubbles. Lead Worker Representative (LWR), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), frameworks, protocols and toolkits. These are the new acronyms and jargon being publicly debated for a safe return to school in Ireland in less than a week’s time.


As a recently-retired principal of a DEIS primary school (‘disadvantaged’), my question is where is the mention of our children and our school staff? Pods and bubbles are actually no more than groups of children and classes of children. The fact that we are naming them as a pod or a bubble does not magically bestow on them some new protective superpower. The LWR is a staff member, either a teacher or an SNA (Special Needs Assistant) who has taken on extra responsibility at this time. The media needs to desist from commodifying and de-humanising our schools.


Parents, teachers, principals, SNAs, school secretaries, caretakers and volunteers on Boards of Management all over the country are all doing their utmost to ensure a safe return for our children and, more importantly, to ensure that our schools will remain open. Our teachers, principals and SNAs, who are among the best in the world, will continue to keep our schools child-centred. They will stay focused on their mission to realise the wonderful potential and creativity that exists in each child in front of them.


But schools need society’s help. Who exactly will ensure that some of our vulnerable children who are born into systemic and inter-generational poverty and neglect will arrive at school in a freshly-laundered uniform with a perfectly santitised lunchbox at a suitably staggered opening time to join a little pod?  


The school’s responsibility begins at the school door and I have no doubt that schools will rise to the challenge. But the challenges to society are far greater. Let’s focus on our children and let’s do better.