Northern Ireland news

Social distancing relaxed to one metre for schoolchildren

Schools will reopen from August 24

PUPILS will return to full-time education in the autumn with one metre social distancing.

First Minister Arlene Foster revealed that classrooms would be used as "protective bubbles".

Children in `key cohorts' of Years 7, 12 and 14 will be welcomed back on August 24, one week earlier than usual.

Schools have been open only to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers since March.

Vulnerable children in all year groups will also start from August 24. To facilitate this, schools will be opening in the week commencing August 17 for preparation purposes.

The executive yesterday also announced several other education measures. These include:

  • A programme of targeted activity over the summer months to support vulnerable young people
  • An expansion of the Eat Well, Live Well programme, which provides healthy breakfasts and lunches
  • A bid to fund free school meals over the summer months
  • The limited resumption of youth summer programmes prioritising key workers' children aged 9-13
  • Catch up programmes including virtual classrooms to support literacy and numeracy

Mrs Foster said it was the executive's objective to see a return to school for all pupils as soon as possible.

Face-to-face learning was key to children's development, she said.

She added that the social distancing measure would be reduced from two to one metre in schools when they reopen on August 24. This would enable class sizes to return to near-normal levels.

Guidance is to be issued to schools today on measures for returning in the autumn.

Education Minister Peter Weir wrote to principals ahead of the publication of this guidance.

It has a `day-one' focus, and concentrates on social distancing and hygiene considerations within school settings. It also provides guidance on other aspects of the new school day, including transport and catering

Mr Weir said the current social distancing guidance of two metres must continue to be followed between all adults within the education sector but that a distance of one metres "is safe and appropriate between children and young people".

"Using `protective bubbles' has been supported by the Department of Health and PHA, and flexing their use to one metre will allow full classes to attend. The one metre guidance between children is to be

followed as far as possible within the confines of the physical capacity of each classroom and the two metre rule for staff adhered to fully."

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the reopening of schools will be a great relief for families.

"Parents have had to home school over the last few months and I know many pupils have missed meeting up with their classmates," she said.

"The reopening will be on a phased basis and it is important that the conversations continue with those who have the shared goal of giving all our children the very best education possible so that the disruptions can be kept to a minimum."

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