First Minister Arlene Foster has confirmed that schools in Northern Ireland – except for special schools – will remain closed for the majority of pupils until 5 March.

In the briefing on Thursday 28 January, alongside Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, the First Minister said that she realised how difficult home schooling is for parents, that they are no substitute for teachers, and the executive is resolved to get our young people ‘back into the classroom as soon as possible’.

Education Minister Peter Weir made the recommendation in a paper discussed by the executive on Thursday due to the ongoing public health situation.

He said: “I have consistently stated that, no matter how good the quality of remote learning being provided, the removal of face-to-face learning will have a negative impact on children’s educational experience, with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups and vulnerable children. Any interruption to normal schooling is only done with the greatest level of reluctance.

“My priority is to return to full-time face-to-face teaching for all as soon as possible. The aim would be to start face-to-face teaching in early March, but all actions on resumption will be dependent on the wider public health situation.”

An announcement on alternative awarding arrangements for key examination years is expected shortly.

Continuing, the Minister said: “It is important that those year groups engaged in learning for key qualifications must be prioritised in any consideration of plans for schools returning.  They must have the maximum opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills and understanding required for progression to the next stage of education, employment or training.

“Given the disruption to our children’s education, educational recovery is critical to their future. I will be seeking resources to enable investment in catch up to allow children to make up for the loss of face-to-face teaching over these two academic years, and welcome the agreement in principle by the Executive to this. Core loss to the foundations of education, if missed now, could have a longer detrimental impact on children.”

In relation to school transport and Free School Meals the Minister said that the processes in place will continue.

He said: “Where children can use alternative means of travelling to school they should do so and the wearing of face coverings for post-primary pupils on school transport will continue to be mandatory.  

“For children entitled to free school meals, payments in lieu of free school meals will continue to apply to any child entitled to free school meals who is learning remotely and cannot attend school as a result of the restrictions.”  



Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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