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Teachers' union calls for Christmas break to begin early

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Minister Norma Foley said the break would not change

Minister Norma Foley said the break would not change

Minister Norma Foley said the break would not change

A teachers' union has called for a "morale boosting" early Christmas break for schools after a nine-month struggle through Covid-19.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said it would also allow more time for staff and students to restrict their movements before meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives for festive gatherings.

Education Minister Norma Foley yesterday ruled out finishing the term on Friday, December 18, rather than the following Tuesday, unless public health advice changed.

Speaking at the Oireachtas Education Committee, she said it was "not our intention at this stage, at all, to extend the Christmas break" and that it was "important that schools finish out the term".

However, the TUI later said "serious consideration" should be given to the proposal.

It is the only one of the three teacher unions to issue a formal call for an early holiday, although it has been the subject of discussion within both the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI), where there are differing views.

The TUI said it would be a positive signal of the department's intention to protect the well-being of all in the school community, while also allowing a longer lead-in time before meeting vulnerable relatives, should public health advice allow such family gatherings.

TUI general secretary Michael Gillespie said recent months had been "unprecedentedly difficult and draining" for school communities.

He said: "Thanks to the remarkable work of staff, schools had remained open through all levels of restrictions, including Level 5."

But Mr Gillespie said stress and anxiety levels remained extremely high as a result of a range of worries and concerns that were not imaginable this time last year.

Fatigued

"This has been an extraordinarily intensive working period, and staff and students are far more fatigued than they would be during a 'normal' school year.

"In this regard, the short extension of the Christmas closure period that we are advocating would be a significant and much-needed boost to the morale of all concerned."

Mr Gillespie said there was "much well-intentioned theorising about the concept of well-being in schools, but this would be a real, tangible action that could benefit all in the school community.

"It could also prove to be a 'stitch in time' measure that helps prevent longer absences due to burnout and exhaustion later in the school year."

Earlier, ASTI president Ann Piggott said there were arguments on both sides of the proposal.

She said the matter had been raised within the Principals' and Deputy Principals' Committee of the ASTI.

Speaking on Newstalk's The Pat Kenny Show, she said when students finish school before Christmas, they would be at home with their families "and then seven days later I think it might be safe enough for their grandparents to see them and meet them and that's what everybody wants."


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