Likely September return for north's schools, says Arlene Foster
SCHOOLS are increasingly unlikely to welcome children back into classrooms before September - and not all will return at once.
First Minister Arlene Foster said the north would not follow the same plan as England.
She was speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a possibility some primary schools in England could open in June.
Schools break up for the summer much earlier in Northern Ireland, however.
All education settings have been closed to most young people since late March.
Since then, they have been providing distance learning and are open for key workers' children up to the age of 14 and vulnerable pupils.
Many are bracing themselves to continue offering supervised learning over the summer holiday period.
The number of young people attending is increasing.
It has already been said that schools in Northern Ireland will only reopen “when it is safe” and any decision will be made by the entire executive.
Teaching unions have expressed fears that there could be a "catastrophic" surge in Covid-19 infections if schools are told to reopen too soon.
The National Education Union said there would likely be an increased risk to staff and children.
It has made 10 demands for a proposed return for schools and colleges. These include adequate personal protective equipment and a testing and contact-tracing regime for staff.
The education committee at Stormont has been receiving weekly updates from minister Peter Weir and his department's permanent secretary.
On several occasions over the past few weeks, Derek Baker has been asked about the reopening of schools.
He has repeated that there is no target date.
When schools do return, he said, it would be on a phased basis and there would be a mix of remote and in-school learning.
Mr Baker also told members that he was unable to guarantee schools would even return in September as no one could see that far ahead.
Mrs Foster said that the June date applied only to England.
"When England speaks about going back to school at the beginning of June, they will have another six or seven weeks after that," she said.
"We, of course, normally finish school at the end of June."
She said it was anticipated schools would return in September, or perhaps August, and this would require "a lot of planning" during summer.
Deputy First Minister MIchelle O'Neill told The Irish News this week that it was her "personal view" that schools should not reopen until September and that that they will run "very differently".
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said he welcomed the north's reaffirmation of the ‘stay at home’ message.
"The Northern Ireland Executive decided to close schools on public health grounds and it is right that schools not reopen until it is safe to do so," he said.
"Schools should continue to limit their opening only to vulnerable children and to children of key workers.
"No teacher or child should be expected to go into a school that is not safe and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe for them to do so."