Half of north's schools have report positive Covid-19 cases
ALMOST every secondary school in the north has had at least one positive Covid-19 case since the start of term.
Fresh statistics from the Public Health Agency (PHA) reveal the extent of the virus in schools.
Children returned to classrooms full-time last month after prolonged closures during lockdown.
Already hundreds of schools have been affected by fresh cases. Some have sent home full classes or entire year groups while others have closed temporarily.
Since the restart on August 24, there have been 2,030 confirmed cases, according to the PHA.
Almost half of all schools have been affected, including 167 of 193 post-primaries.
It is the third different set of figures released in just five days this week.
On Monday, education minister Peter Weir told the assembly there had been 1,491 cases, with 10 schools reporting more than one incident.
Later, in an answer to a written assembly question, he said the number of schools with multiple cases was almost 250.
The PHA made a distinction between cases and incidents. An incident can be either a single positive case, a cluster of two to five cases or more than five cases.
It reported there had been 608 incidents involving 519 schools. Almost 40 per cent were clusters of two to five cases while 11 per cent were clusters of five or more.
More than half the incidents were in primary settings (373), followed by post-primary (202) and special schools (33).
Of those with clusters of five or more cases, 80 per cent were in post-primary schools.
Information on pupil/staff breakdown was available for 88 per cent of the 2,030 cases, the PHA said.
This broke down into 1,218 pupils and 571 staff.
Among pupils, 803 were in post-primaries. The figure of 1,218 represents 0.37 per cent of the school-aged pupils.
Graham Gault of the National Association of Head Teachers said the PHA bulletin indicated worrying trends for children of GCSE and A-level age.
"Their face-to-face learning and teaching is being interrupted and their experience is, therefore, inequitable across the system. This is now without doubt," he said.
"And remember, each positive case represents an additional, unspecified number of children and adults having to self-isolate."
Ulster Teachers' Union president Stephen McCord said the number of cases came as no surprise.
"It's only down to the huge efforts made by principals, teachers and staff - with the support of parents and pupils - that the figure is not higher," he said.
"Until now, schools have been leaving windows open as much as possible to maximise air flow. However, as the temperatures drop this will be increasingly problematic and will pose a significant risk for other winter-related ailments and to health and safety.
"Oil bills too will soar as schools try to ensure their classrooms stay sufficiently warm so teachers and children can carry on working.
"We're seeing half our schools reporting Covid cases but as winter progresses we will be in uncharted territory in how best to cope."