Following agreement by the Executive today (Tuesday 16 March), pupils in P4 to P7 will join the younger students who started back to full-time face to face teaching last week and return to school on 22 March.
All remaining pupils (Years 8 to 11) will return on 12 April after the Easter break. This will be subject to a review at the end of March.
Education Minister Peter Weir said: “Today is a very good day for schools, pupils and parents. I welcome the decision by the Executive to allow the remaining primary school pupils to return next week with the intention that all pupils will be back in school from 12 April.
“My main objective has always been a full return of all pupils to school in line with public health advice. Education has rightly been prioritised by the Executive for all the benefits that brings to our children and also for the longer term societal and economic benefits.
“Given the significant disruption to our children’s learning, our focus now must be on educational recovery which will be critical to their future prospects. With Executive support, I intend to invest in the necessary resources to help pupils address any disruption to their learning that they may have faced since the start of the pandemic.
Concluding the Minister said that he had also written to schools on plans to introduce regular testing in schools.
Peter Weir said: “Testing for school staff and older pupils will provide a significant level of reassurance to education settings. All settings will be reminded of the need for stringent adherence to good practice and additional signage will be provided to all schools to encourage people to comply with public health messaging.
“While it is for each family to decide if they wish for their child to participate in the testing, it will be of benefit to all those in schools for us to be able to break the chain of transmission of the virus by identifying all those who may be asymptomatic.
“My Department will continue to engage with school leaders and teaching unions to address their queries and concerns and to provide support and guidance as we move to a full return of pupils.”
School meals and transport services will operate as normal for those schools and year groups where pupils are required to attend
The Executive has also today agreed several measured relaxations to the current Coronavirus Health Regulations. While the majority of the current restrictions will remain in place until after Easter, the Executive agreed to gradual changes which will come into effect before the next formal review date on or before April 15.
From April 1, the regulations will change to:
- Permit 10 people from two households to undertake outdoor sporting activities as defined in the regulations. This allows sports such as golf and tennis to resume from this date in small groups of individuals from two households, however club houses and sport facilities including changing rooms, showers, kitchens, meeting rooms must remain closed apart from essential toilet facilities.
- Up to six people (including children) from two households may meet outdoors in a garden, and
- Garden centres and plant nurseries can operate a contactless click and collect service.
The Executive also agreed an indicative date of April 12 for:
- Increasing the numbers who can meet outdoors in a garden from six to 10 (including children) from two households;
- Allowing contactless click and collect service for all non-essential retail;
- Allowing for sports training to resume by sports clubs affiliated with recognised Governing Bodies, in small groups of up to 15 people but with all indoor spaces closed except for essential toilet facilities; and
- Removal of the ‘stay at home’ provision in the legislation; stronger promotion of the stay local and work from home messages.
These relaxations planned for April 12 will be subject to Executive ratification in the week after the Easter weekend.
The Executive has also agreed to increase the provision for elite sports from March 25 to allow a number of new competitions to begin.
This minor adjustment to the current restrictions will allow two World Cup qualifications matches scheduled for March 25 and 31 to take place as well as a friendly match between NI and the USA on March 28. Irish league teams will also be able to begin training. No spectators will be permitted at any sporting event.