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Return to school in Northern Ireland delayed by a week as Covid-19 infections soar

Remote learning will be facilitated in primary and secondary schools next week.

Image: Liam McBurney via PA Images

SCHOOLS IN NORTHERN Ireland will deliver remote learning in the first week of the new term after a return to classrooms was delayed due to spiralling Covid-19 infection rates.

The announcement by Education Minister Peter Weir will affect both primary and secondary schools.

For secondary school Years 8 to 11, remote learning will continue throughout January.

Schools will open next week to accommodate vulnerable children and those of key workers.

Childcare settings, including those attached to schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries and special schools, will also open as usual next week.

Weir had been facing mounting pressure to delay the return to school after the Christmas holidays due to the worsening infection rates in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, the region reported a record 2,143 cases in a 24-hour period.

Prior to Weir’s announcement, the Stormont Assembly had already been recalled for a hearing today to discuss school reopening issue.

Weir said exams due in January would take place compliant with public health advice.

He said schools would have flexibility to deliver face-to-face learning for pupils due to sit those exams if they wished.

“The Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Education Authority and the Public Health Agency have worked closely throughout the pandemic to maintain the education of children, to reduce the risk of outbreaks and to respond when these occur,” he said.

“This work has continued in recent weeks and the proposed way forward has been informed by the evidence and the advice provided.

“The common aim has been to keep schools safe, prioritise children’s education and ensure any impact on overall transmission is as low as possible, while accepting that schools reopening as normal is not sustainable.”

embedded255794706 Education Minister Peter Weir had been under pressure to delay the return to school Source: Michael Cooper via PA Images

Weir continued: “While previous arrangements have been informed by the advice of the Department of Health, unfortunately the deteriorating nature of the epidemic and the risks to public health has necessitated more substantial changes.

“Therefore, having considered the advice from the chief medical officer (Dr Michael McBride) and the chief scientific adviser (Professor Ian Young), and following discussions with them, I have decided that all primary and post-primary pupils will be taught remotely for the first week of term. Special schools and childcare provision will, however, remain open.

“All schools must provide supervised learning for vulnerable children and key workers’ children.

I must stress that these decisions are not made lightly as I know the negative impact on children’s learning and mental health and wellbeing of not being in school.

“However, particularly after unprecedented levels of positive Covid-19 tests since Christmas, and the pressure this applies to our health service, it is critical that we all must consider the public health and scientific advice as we look forward to brighter days ahead.”

Republic

Here, the government announced yesterday that the reopening of schools has been pushed back a week due to the increase in Covid-19 cases. 

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Schools will now reopen on 11 January instead of the planned 6 January return. 

In his address to the nation, Micheál Martin said that the evidence he has seen shows government that schools are safe places. 

“All public health analysis is showing that schools are safe, and schools will reopen, but slightly delayed to 11 January.

“By extending the break by three days, the new restrictions I am announcing this evening will be in place for more than 10 days when schools open.  Families will have had an opportunity to ensure that their contacts are minimised before children return to school.”

The INTO said it welcomed the “swift movement” by government in delaying the return to school.

Its general secretary, John Boyle, said his union will continue to work with government and NPHET to ensure staff and children remain as safe as possible.

“As we set out yesterday, the alarming public health data and concerns expressed in respect of the new Covid-19 variation warrant this approach. We will seek to work constructively with the Department of Education and NPHET to ensure our schools reopen next month and have the necessary supports and protection to stay open safely.” 

With reporting by Garreth MacNamee

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