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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Northern Ireland pupils return to school for first time since December

Around 100,000 children are also returning to pre-school in the Republic of Ireland.

THE FIRST CHILDREN to return to school since December will re-enter classrooms across Northern Ireland today.

P1 to P3 pupils (equivalent to junior infants to first class) will return to class but are set to go back to remote learning after two weeks.

First Minister Arlene Foster has expressed hope that those primary pupils will ultimately be able to remain in school.

The Stormont Executive is expected to discuss the issue further this week.

On 22 March, secondary school children in key exam years – years 12-14 – are to go back to class.

No date has yet been announced for the wider return of all children to school.

The children of key workers have been able to attend since the latest lockdown started in December but many have been engaged in learning from home.

The Stormont Executive published its Pathway to Recovery plan for exiting lockdown restrictions last week.

embedded258381711 Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and First Minister Arlene Foster. Source: Liam McBurney/PA

It sets out an emergence from lockdown in stages, described as lockdown, cautious first steps, gradual easing, further easing, and preparing for the future.

The blueprint does not include any target dates, with ministers instead insisting decisions on moving between stages will be based on scientific and medical evidence, not the calendar.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said ministers hope the process of exiting lockdown will be well advanced by June 10.

Around 100,000 children are also returning to pre-school this morning in the Republic of Ireland under the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE). 

Ireland’s phased reopening of schools got underway last week with junior infants to second class returning to primary school and sixth years returning to secondary school.

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Next week is set to see third, fourth, fifth and sixth classes return to primary schools and fifth years due to return to secondary school.

In England, Pupils will return to schools and loved ones will be able to visit care home residents in person as part of the first phase of lockdown easing.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped today’s tentative softening of restrictions marked a “big step” on his “road map to freedom” – a plan which could see all Covid measures lifted by 21 June.

As well as pupils returning to classrooms for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

While the “stay at home” message will remain in place, it means people can leave home to meet one other person for a coffee or picnic.

With reporting by Céimin Burke

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