Northern Ireland news

Peter Weir hopes that children can return to school full-time in September

Plans are being drawn up to allow children to return to school full-time in September
David Young, Press Association

The education minister has expressed confidence he will be able to change school reopening plans during the summer to allow for a full return to the classroom in the autumn.

Peter Weir told the Assembly that he hoped to bring proposals to the executive in the next two months that would enable all pupils to return full time, five days a week when the next term starts.

Under current plans, schools must comply with a one-metre social distancing guidance for pupils when classes restart at the end of August.

Many school leaders have said it will be impossible to accommodate all pupils in their buildings at the same time under the one-metre guidance.

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For those schools unable to reach maximum capacity, Mr Weir's department has recommended minimum levels of classroom time for pupils - two days a week for primary schools and 50% for secondary schools, with children likely to attend for one week in every two.

During Assembly question time today, the minister was asked by party colleague Jonathan Buckley about the prospect of the one-metre guidance being axed and schools instead relying on a classroom bubble model to minimise infection risks.

Mr Weir said if the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic continued on its current course in Northern Ireland then he was hopeful that schools could return as normal in the autumn.

Education minister Peter Weir

"Let me make it absolutely clear to the member, I believe we are on the right pathway, I believe that we are on trajectory for further changes to be made and if that continues it would be my intention therefore to bring proposals before the end of this summer to enable all schools to be there five days a week for every pupil," he said.

"That is something, I think, which is to the advantage of teachers, to parents, to schools but most of all to pupils themselves, and if we can reach that point I think that is highly desirable and I think it is the case that I believe that the levels of protection that are needed to be put in place can under those circumstances be achieved by different methods (than the one-metre model)."

Under the current plan, schools have been urged to utilise all the space at their disposal to allow them to accommodate the full school population and, where this is not possible, they have been encouraged by the department to use nearby community facilities, such as church halls, GAA clubs or Orange Halls.

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Northern Ireland news