Schools will only re-open `when it is safe'
SCHOOLS will only reopen "when it is safe" and any decision will be made by the entire executive.
The blanket closure is now in its sixth week - and GCSE, AS-level, A-level and vocational exams have all been cancelled.
No date has been set for schools to reopen to pupils other than key workers' children and those considered vulnerable.
The head of the schools watchdog Ofsted has said it is in children's interests to return "as soon as possible".
One of the north's teaching unions has made a list of 10 preconditions it says must be met before staff and pupils can go back, however.
Some European countries including Denmark and Germany have begun phased reopenings.
Their approach to ending the educational lockdown is being closely observed as other countries debate similar measures.
The Department of Education said schools in the north "will reopen when it is safe to do so".
"This will be an executive decision based on expert scientific and public health advice," a spokeswoman said.
"The department has started work to scope the many issues to be addressed before schools reopen and will also consider the experience of other countries where schools have reopened. Whilst no decision has been made on a date, it is likely schools will eventually reopen on a phased basis.
"The department will consult and engage with all relevant parties, including school leaders and trade unions on behalf of staff as this work progresses."
The National Education Union (NEU) said reopening schools too early would likely result in an increased risk to staff and children.
Regional Secretary Mark Langhammer said the union had "10 demands" for a proposed return for schools, colleges and educational settings.
These include adequate personal protective equipment and a testing and contact-tracing regime for school and college staff.
Writing in a blog for the NEU website, he added that schools should only return where there is no risk of a second wave.
This would be very damaging in education, he said, where pupils "will suffer from the flux of being sent home again and having multiple transitions back to in-school or college learning, and potentially longer out of the classroom than in a delayed reopening".
"It is clear that a `heave' is underway at UK cabinet level to relax, release or transition away from lockdown. Sooner or later, restrictions will relax, and schools will reopen - but when? When schools, colleges and educational settings reopen will depend on a political or philosophical battle of ideas - broadly the strategies of mitigation versus suppression," Mr Langhammer said.
"Following `the science' is all well and good where consensus reigns, but as we know competing versions of science can be bought, nudged or influenced."