No social distancing for P1 and P2 children
SCHOOLS are to abandon social distancing among their youngest children in favour of protective bubbles.
Asking four-year-olds to stay apart from their friends could cause confusion and upset, it has been claimed.
Guidance that focuses on pupils in the `foundation stage' has been sent to principals.
Young people are due to return to full-time education in the autumn with one-metre social distancing.
Those in the `key cohorts' of Years 7, 12 and 14 will be welcomed back on August 24 with other year groups returning later.
Individual schools have been informing parents of their own plans, with some children being told to attend two days a week.
The Department of Education has published several guidance documents about the new school year.
Its latest is aimed at P1 and 2, which makes up the foundation stage for children aged between four and six.
In preparing for the reopening of schools, the department said both the play-based nature of the curriculum and young age of the pupils presented challenges and made strict adherence to social distancing requirements difficult.
The overarching aim of the foundation stage is that children learn through well-planned, challenging play that develops their interests, curiosity and creativity. Young children learn best when it is interactive, practical and enjoyable.
"At this age, children must be given opportunities to be actively involved in practical, challenging play-based learning in a stimulating environment. There is an emphasis on balancing whole class, group and individual activities, to engage children in effective learning," the department said.
"In light of the nature of the foundation stage curriculum, in particular the need for practical, self-initiated and collaborative play opportunities to be provided within the classroom, it is recognised it may not always be possible for schools to maintain one metre social distancing requirements between pupils of this age.
"It is also acknowledged that young children cannot reasonably be expected to remain apart from each other throughout the day. Further, efforts to ensure strict adherence to such measures could be confusing and upsetting for some children at this developmental stage, who are likely to have limited understanding of the rationale for social distancing or the wider public health situation."
Interactive play, including group play, is the means through which young children flourish mentally, physically and emotionally, the department said.
Therefore, it was essential this was encouraged and stimulated.
"Consequently, the main risk mitigation measure for children of this age will be organising them into groups or ‘protective bubbles’ with consistent membership. It is a matter for individual schools to determine the size and composition of groups through their own risk assessment," it said.
"The membership of a group, once established, should remain consistent. Every effort must be made to minimise physical interaction between different groups, and distancing should be maintained between groups across the school. Adults, including those within groups, should implement social distancing."