Tens of thousands of school days lost in December due to pupils isolating
CHILDREN at almost 900 schools have been forced to self-isolate in the first few days of December, new figures reveal.
A staggering 127,000 days have been lost in a two-week period.
Many schools are due to finish at the end of this week, with others opening for one or two days next week.
However, some have already said they will mark pupils present in the final week if they stay at home and engage in remote learning.
There have been fears that fresh outbreaks in classrooms will force children and their families to isolate on Christmas Day.
Education minister Peter Weir has repeatedly ruled out a longer break, either before the scheduled Christmas holidays or after them in the new year.
Fresh statistics on the number of school days lost due to pupils self-isolating were revealed by Mr Weir in response to an assembly question by SDLP MLA Justin McNulty.
The figures cover the weeks beginning November 30 and December 7 - 10 school days.
There are roughly 338,000 pupils in primary, post-primary and special schools.
In those two weeks, there were 127,480.5 days lost - 3.8 per cent of total days. Attendance is recorded in half days - morning and afternoon.
During that same period, 869 schools out of about 1,050 had instances of pupils isolating.
Mr McNulty asked the minister if he would review his decision not to close schools early and whether he anticipated a later reopening in January.
Mr Weir said it remained his firm belief that face-to-face teaching was the best form of education and schools were the best place to provide a controlled and safe environment to provide this.
"The extension of the Christmas holidays for schools would cause further disruption to children's education and lead to an increase in levels of stress and anxiety especially with scheduled examinations in January," he added.
"I fully expect that all schools will reopen on their agreed first day of term following the Christmas period, unless exceptional circumstances have occurred."
Mr McNulty said the figures suggested that more action was needed to address Covid-19 in schools.
"We have heard individual stories in our communities about school bubbles, classes or indeed entire year groups being sent home to isolate because of a close contact with a Covid positive individual," he said.
"And it has now come to light after the minister responded to my written assembly question that in the first two weeks of December we had Covid positive cases in 869 schools in the north.
"Astonishingly this equates to Covid positive cases in over 80 per cent of the schools' estate. This is a staggering figure and should set alarm bells ringing in the Department of Education."