Northern Ireland news

Pupils to be brought back one day a week when schools reopen

Children will be brought back in phases when schools reopen

CHILDREN can expect to only be in the classroom for as little as one day a week when schools reopen after the summer.

Pupils from `key cohorts' will be the first to be brought back towards the end of August.

There will follow a phased return for all young people at the beginning of September - but exact dates have not yet been confirmed.

A `restart programme' is being developed. Details to be finalised include what exactly is meant by key cohorts.

Schools have started writing to parents to help them prepare.

Letters seen by The Irish News say that "the reality" is that pupils will most likely only be in school one to two days per week, in a group situation.

They will stay at home for the remainder of the week.

Where siblings go to different schools, there are efforts being made to see if families can all attend on the same days.

Schools are also taking steps to help meet social distancing requirements, which include introducing one-way systems in corridors.

Children will have their temperatures taken every morning, and finishing times will be staggered.

Minister Peter Weir has written to schools to update them on his department's plans on restarting education.

"While there has been tremendous work done in remote learning over the last number of months, it can never be an ideal substitute for teaching in the classroom, and our ultimate educational goal for the benefit of all pupils must be full time classroom resumption," he said.

"It is important that we begin to see recovery and a process of phased reopening of our schools. This however must be led by medical and scientific evidence to ensure that it is done in a manner and in a timescale which is safe for our pupils, our staff and wider society.

"There will be many complex issues to be considered carefully as we plan for restart."

Mr Weir has established the Education Restart Programme, which will put in place detailed measures and guidance to enable a safe phased reopening.

The timing of the restart, he said, will be determined by circumstances and evidence, not dates.

The health and well-being of the workforce and pupils will be a primary concern.

"The impact on the school day will be significant, a transitionary service model is required which ensure education is safe and effective," Mr Weir added.

"Stringent social distancing in schools will be difficult to achieve. This will require careful management including phased returns, prioritisation of learners and ongoing blended learning."

Planning will be based on the broad assumption that the education system will not be able to return to business as usual from day one.

"We will consider and implement `new school day' arrangements for as longs as is necessary, considering practical arrangements in schools relating to transport, school meals, class sizes, daily routines, curriculum delivery and extracurricular activities," Mr Weir said.

"Public health guidance, including on social distancing, remains in effect and should be adhered to, as should any required steps to keep the workplace safe from the virus."

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