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Northern Ireland schools to remain shut until at least March

Special education schools and childcare are to continue to remain open.

SCHOOLS IN THE North will not return until at least the start of March, the Northern Ireland Executive has decided.

Remote learning is to continue in schools until 5 March in an extension of the closure by another two weeks in a move that First Minister Arlene Foster said was “unlikely” to come as a surprise.

The Department of Education is expected to issue a further announcement on “alternative awarding arrangements” for students who would have sat important exams this year, which have already been cancelled.

Special education schools and childcare are to continue to remain open.

At a press conference, Foster said that it was “unlikely to come as a significant surprise today that we are keeping to remote learning”.

“I understand that for so many, it will still be felt as a disappointment that we cannot yet press the restart button on this and many other aspects of daily life,” she said.

Tweet by @Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain Source: Arlene Foster #WeWillMeetAgain/Twitter

Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education Peter Weir said that “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”.

He said it would be important to prioritise students in exam years in plans for reopening.

A-Level and GCSE exams have already been cancelled in Northern Ireland for 2021, with alternative arrangements for awarding qualifications still to be decided.

“It is important that those year groups engaged in learning for key qualifications must be prioritised in any consideration of plans for schools returning,” Weir said.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

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Payments will be issued for children who are entitled to free school meals instead of the free meals while they cannot attend school during the restrictions.

Teaching in Northern Ireland moved largely online after Christmas, with some exceptions for students in special schools and childcare.

Schools were told to provide “supervised learning” for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Health officials in Northern Ireland confirmed a further 592 Covid-19 cases and 13 deaths this afternoon.

Around 200,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses have been rolled out in the North since its vaccination programme began at the end of last year.

23,927 second doses have been administered in addition to 174,284 first doses as of yesterday, according to the Department of Health.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has warned that schools here may not reopen until St Patrick’s Day, but said that special education might resume in February.

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Lauren Boland

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