No more school closures, urges children's commissioner
THE executive should ensure there are no further school closures beyond Halloween, the children's commissioner has said.
Koulla Yiasouma urged ministers to protect pupils' well-being and their right to education.
Pupils and staff are due to return to classrooms on November 2 after an extended half-term holiday.
Amid calls for a longer period of closure, education minister Peter Weir has maintained there is little evidence that the virus is spreading in schools.
Ms Yiasouma, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said evidence suggests the risk of coronavirus seriously affecting children is exceptionally small.
"They are more likely to suffer serious consequences by not being in school. Being at school decreases inequalities, increases life chances and improves physical and mental health," she said.
"Therefore, I can see no reason why this or any future school break should be extended for any length of time.
"If the issue in relation to schools is outside the school gates, we must tackle that without disrupting our children's education and we must also get smarter at dealing with identified cases of Covid in schools."
Ms Yiasouma said education and well-being could not be allowed to suffer further as a result of the pandemic.
She said there was a need for rapid testing of pupils and teachers so any confirmed cases and close contacts could isolate without the need to send entire classes or year groups home.
A readily available supply of substitute teachers to replace those who are off or isolating was also needed.
"Children with special educational needs and those attending special schools have already been gravely affected by the closure of schools and other vital supports during the pandemic. Further closures could be catastrophic for these children and their families," she added.
"Young people studying for external exams such as GCSEs and A-levels also continue to be adversely affected by school closures and periods of self-isolation.
"I look forward to seeing the proposed contingency plans from all external exam bodies and call on government to make sure this process has the confidence of young people and educators.
"I also reiterate my call to all schools who intend to use the transfer test to admit pupils for their 2021 intake. Now is the time to choose an alternative process in the best interests of our children."