Northern Ireland news

Learn from 'premature' school reopenings in England, union urges

Reception pupils Eden and Teegan at Queen's Hill PS, Costessey, Norfolk, as pupils begin to return to school

TEACHING leaders are urging the executive to learn from England's "premature" reopening of schools.

Pupils began to return on Monday as major changes were made to lockdown restrictions in England.

Children will only start to re-enter classrooms in Northern Ireland in August.

In England, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 returned as government and education unions continue to argue over whether it is safe.

Parents are reluctant to send their children back, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research.

Its survey of more than 1,200 school leaders found headteachers were expecting 46 per cent of families to keep children at home.

A separate survey showed that more than 20 councils across England advised schools not to open to more pupils this week.

Some claimed that the NHS Test and Trace system will not be "robust enough" to allay fears over the potential spreading of the virus due to difficulty maintaining social distancing.

Several scientists have also criticised the move suggesting it is too early to lift restrictions and could cause infections to rapidly rise again.

The National Education Union's Northern Ireland Regional Secretary, Mark Langhammer said the UK government's scientific advisory body had expressed worries about the safety of school openings.

Four members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) questioned it.

Mr Langhammer said this confirmed the wisdom of Education Minister Peter Weir and the executive in announcing a more cautious timetable.

"No one can now confidently assert that it is safe to open schools more widely at this time and it underlines the need to double-down on the stay home message for now," Mr Langhammer said.

"Increasing pressure on teachers and educational support staff to return to some schools to undertake immediate group planning work, or to input results and report or moderate grades and rankings in teams clearly runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents. That risk can only be mitigated if contact tracing is running successfully."

Mr Langhammer added that the vast majority of teachers wanted to see schools reopening, but only when safe.

"The executive in Northern Ireland has been following the science and this public break by senior members of SAGE, underlines why they were right to do so," he said.

"Test and contact tracing is now only just occurring more widely in Northern Ireland, and schools can open more widely once the contact tracing system is shown to be established and working."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news