Plans are being put in place for a phased return to schools in September, the Education Minister has announced.
Peter Weir MLA says there are plans for some pupils in “key cohorts” to return to school in August with schools to operate a mixture of school attendance and remote learning at home.
Speaking in the Assembly, Mr weir commented: “There is a need to help secure the best possible educational future for all our children in what are extremely difficult circumstances.
“While there has been tremendous work done in remote learning over the last two months, it is important that we begin to see recovery and a process of phased reopening of our schools.
“This however must be led by medical and scientific evidence to ensure that it is done in a manner and in a timescale which is safe for our pupils, our staff and wider society.”
Mr Weir said he was aware of the need to give as much certainty to people as possible regarding timeframes.
At present schools are closed to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable workers for supervised learning. This number has been slowly expanding since Easter.
“I would be keen to see more vulnerable children attending school, and similarly should the Executive
widen the definition of key workers this too can be accommodated,” he added.
“But neither of these actions will radically alter the pattern of children currently at school.
“The phased reopening of schools will require engagement, preparation and implementation of actions in conjunction with a wide range of stakeholders. We have one chance to get this right and it cannot be done overnight.
“Therefore other than the provisions for children of key workers and vulnerable children already mentioned, there will be no overall reopening of schools during the remainder of this academic year.”
The Department is currently establishing a Restart Programme, which will put in place the detailed arrangements which will enable a safe phased reopening of schools.
The work on this will be conducted during the remainder of the current term and the summer.
Mr Weir added: “Subject to medical guidance and safety it would be my aim to see a phased reopening of schools, beginning with a limited provision for key cohort years in late August, followed by phased provision for all pupils at the beginning of September.
“This will not be a return to school as it was prior to Covid, but rather a new normal reflective of social distancing and a medically safe regime.
“For all pupils it will involve a schedule with a mixture of school attendance and remote learning at home.
Finally, in line with the Executive Strategy, contingent upon medical guidance and scientific evidence around susceptibility and transmission, consideration may be given to a full return for cohorts of younger pupils.”
He concluded: “This is the biggest public health crisis we have faced in living memory and the Executive’s priority is to help keep people safe and to support those who have faced real hardship.
“My Department and the wider education sector will continue to play a full part in the ongoing effort, whilst also focussing on the future, for when we return to some kind of normality.”
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