Education Minister Peter Weir has welcomed funding of almost £64 million to help schools manage Education Authority pressures, COVID-19 pressures and for free school meals.
The funding, which has been allocated as part of the October monitoring round, includes £49.4 million to cover additional costs such as maintenance, staffing, cleaning and other pressures and £12.8 million to cover for a range of pressures including those in Special Educational Needs, and schools maintenance. There is also £1.4 million to cover free school meals funding over the extended half-term break.
The Minister said: “I want to welcome this extra funding which will help my Department, the Education Authority and schools in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Schools and education settings are facing increased costs to help them maintain a safe environment for pupils, including additional cleaning and hiring more staff. We are also facing increased demand for free schools meals and uniform grants.
“I am also pleased that we will be able to fund resources for blended learning and provide support for childcare.
“Principals and school staff are working in a very challenging environment and it is important that they have the resources they need to keep our schools safe for our pupils.”
The announcement comes on the same day as the Executive confirmed that schools across Northern Ireland will reopen on Monday (2 November) after a two-week closure. The closures were part of tighter Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the NI Executive.
The reopening of schools will also bring changes to the regulations of face-coverings on school transport. It wil now become mandatory for all post-primary children. Currently, it is mandatory for passengers aged over 13 to wear a face covering on public transport and Department of Education guidance strongly recommends that all pupils should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school. Those aged 12 and under and/or those using a dedicated home to school transport vehicle are not required to do so.
The new regulations will not apply to pupils who are exempt from wearing a face covering.
Minister Weir said: “Principals and school staff have been working tirelessly to keep schools safe for pupils and, their efforts have ensured the level of transmission in schools remains low. However, the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in the community is something we all must seek to address.
“The Public Health Agency has recommended that my Department strengthens the requirements around the wearing of face coverings on home-to-school transport. I have also had very positive discussions with the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, on this issue and she too supports the need to ensure all post primary children wear face coverings on both dedicated school transport and public transport.
“Following agreement by the Executive today, I have asked officials to amend the current regulations to make the wearing of face coverings on both dedicated school transport and public transport mandatory for all post-primary children”