A number of teachers absent from state schools last Friday could have been in class had they used the test-to-stay programme, the education ministry reiterated on Tuesday in an ongoing row with teachers over the implementation of coronavirus protocols in public education.

In a written statement, the ministry said that in response to a request by the House education committee it was releasing figures on absentee teachers at state schools of all levels for Friday, February 18.

It said that 557 teachers were absent on that day as confirmed coronavirus cases, 101 because they were close contacts of confirmed cases and 232 because they were looking after their children under 15 who were either infected with coronavirus or were close contacts.

“The education ministry is continuing its efforts daily so as to safeguard the smooth operation of the schools during the pandemic and to meet the needs for replacement teachers who are absent,” it said.

And it added: “However, it is clear from the above figures that a number of teachers could be at school if they used the test to stay programme for contacts, either for themselves or for their children.”

And it again urged teachers’ unions to use their influence to persuade teachers who are either contacts themselves or who are looking after children who are close contacts to use the test so that schools are not burdened with absences that can be avoided.

This would also help their colleagues who continue to teach and would facilitate efforts to find replacement teachers.

Teachers’ unions say the additional work managing coronavirus protocols is taking away valuable time from teaching and have been pressing the ministry to step up efforts to find supply teachers to fill the many absences.

They have also criticised the test to stay programme, which allows children and staff who are contacts to come to school provided they test negative on the day for six days, as time consuming, resulting in children showing up late to class. The ministry has countered that the programme has allowed children who would otherwise miss school to attend.