Education news

Peter Weir: Schools should remain open even if 'circuit break' lockdown is introduced

Education minister Peter Weir pictured during a visit to Dungannon PS
David Young, PA

Closing schools during a further lockdown in Northern Ireland would hit disadvantaged children the hardest, the Education Minister has warned.

Peter Weir said he wanted schools to remain open even if a so-called circuit break lockdown was introduced.

Mr Weir also cautioned against Northern Ireland going on a “solo run” and suggested any move to lockdown should be done in co-ordination with the rest of the UK and the Irish Republic.

The minister was giving evidence to his Assembly scrutiny committee on Wednesday.

“I think from the point of view of a circuit breaker, I think if we were to do that my preference certainly would be that schools still remain open,” he said.

Mr Weir highlighted that the Irish Government also planned to keep schools open even if it moved to the highest level – level five – of its Covid-19 plan.

He added: “If children miss further elements of school I think that would be damaging to their education and also there is a strong argument that the more children miss, however much we try to put mitigation measures in place, it will also hit those who are more socially disadvantaged at a harder level than others.

“I think there has been a strong commitment from the executive to try as much as possible to support education.

“It (closure) is certainly not something I would want to see on the radar.”

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The minister stressed that any decision on a circuit breaker would be for the Stormont executive as a whole.

“Whether there’ll be a circuit breaker or not will not be a decision for the Department of Education,” he told committee members.

“We will have a view, but it will be an executive wide decision.

“And probably may well be a decision which will also be taken in terms of I know the First and Deputy First Ministers have been in touch with the Prime Minister and Taoiseach and other devolved (regions), so those things will also I think probably taken in a wider (context).

“I think for Northern Ireland to do something on a sort of a solo run basis would probably not be particularly helpful.”

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