Minister for Education Norma Foley has rejected a suggestion that there is confusion as to when a child should be kept at home or sent to school, in relation to Covid-19.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Education, Minister Foley said the advice from public health was that if a child was unwell then they should stay at home.

She said that was the public health advice and it was the advice that was being given to schools.

"There is no confusion in the information that is being disseminated to schools and parents," she said in response to Sinn Féin's Education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said there was an incoherence between the advice coming from the Department of Education and that coming from the Health Service Executive.

He said there is a discrepancy related to advice for children with runny noses.

"The Department of Education is saying don’t send them in and the HSE is saying it’s okay," he said.

Detailing some of the complaints that he had heard from school principals, Labour’s Education spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that if the minister was not hearing what he was hearing then "maybe you are not listening".

He said principals had been left with no option but to send home entire classes because they had gone up to five days without contact from health officials.

Ms Foley reiterated that there had been "pinch points" but that where they had occurred the HSE had provided additional resources.

It comes as a Professor of Immunology and Associate Dean for Research at DCU has said she is concerned about the high level of Covid-19 in school-going children.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Christine Loscher said this cohort, under the age of 12, are outliers in our Covid case numbers at the moment.

She said the incidence rate for the general population is 390 cases per 100,000 people, but "it's up in the 700s for children of primary school age," she said.

"They're probably double the average for the general population and it is a concern, it's not surprising, given that they're a totally unvaccinated population, but it is a concern".

Prof Loscher said she always has a concern about children of these ages, as "there are other risks of Covid that we tend to overlook because mostly children do very well, they don't sometimes get even very severe symptoms".

However she said "we are seeing a lot of studies particularly in the last month or two, that have shown definitively a real impact of long Covid in children, so I do have a concern that we're still at a high level in this population".

Unannounced inspections to look at bullying issue in schools

Ms Foley also told the committee that Department of Education inspectors will look at bullying matters through unannounced inspections to be carried out in schools.

The incidental inspections will result in feedback to individual schools about how they are implementing anti-bullying procedures, as well as the publication of an interim composite report on how the anti-bullying procedures are being implemented, Ms Foley said.

She said that from the beginning of 2022, the monitoring of anti-bullying measures with schools will be extended to all inspection types and will include looking at the actions of the school to create a positive school culture as well as the implementation of important aspects of the anti-bullying procedures.

There is also to be a review and updating of the department's action plan on bullying and anti-bullying procedures.

Ms Foley said the review would take account of developments and relevant research since the action plan and procedures were first published, and would specifically consider areas such as cyber bullying and gender identity bullying.