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Coronavirus: Some NI pupils will return to school in August

Coronavirus: Some NI pupils will return to school in August

  • 21 May 2020
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  • Coronavirus pandemic
Image copyright PA Media

Some NI pupils may return to school in late August with a phased return for the remainder, the education minister Peter Weir has said.

Mr Weir was speaking during a meeting of a Stormont committee on Thursday.

He said: "Subject to medical guidance and safety, it would be my aim to see a phased reopening of schools."

Schools in Northern Ireland have been closed since March during the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Weir said the reopening of schools would begin with "limited provision for key cohort years in August, followed by a phased provision for all pupils at the beginning of September".

Speaking later at the executive's daily press conference, Mr Weir clarified that "key cohorts" referred to those students preparing for exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, and students "transitioning from primary to post-primary".

Image caption From August, teaching will be split between the classroom and remote learning

He added: "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 mixture of scheduled school attendance and learning at home.

"In line with the executive's strategy contingent upon medically sound advice and susceptibility of the transmission of the virus, consideration may be given to a return of younger cohorts."

Analysis: Huge undertaking for schools now

By Robbie Meredith, BBC News NI Education Correspondent

There will still be many questions for parents, pupils and teachers with this announcement.

I spoke to one principal who asked how he will stagger classes and maintain social distancing, especially among younger pupils - and that's just one school.

Although mid-August seems a long way off, it is a huge undertaking to enable pupils to come back and learn full time in September, even if they're not in school settings full time.

What about childcare, in cases where students are only in schools part of the week and at home for the remainder?

The one advantage we do have is that our schools will not open for the rest of this educational year, so we will be able to watch how it is managed in other countries and what problems they've faced and overcome.

But this is only three months away - it will take every day of those three months to iron out some of these issues.

The minister said he was "conscious some school pupils are more at risk of falling behind than others".

Laptop scheme

He announced a new scheme to be run by the Education Authority to provide laptops to support remote learning for disadvantaged pupils.

The Department of Education will commit to buying more laptops if they are required, he added.

Mr Weir said there are about 300 to 400 vulnerable children attending schools that are open only to provide care, a figure he said was "small but increasing".