Education news

Pupils in Northern Ireland to return to school March 8 at the earliest

The original plan was that pupils could return to pre-school, primary and nursery schools following the half-term break in mid-February.
Digital Staff

Education Minister Peter Weir will recommend that schools do not return until March 8 at the earliest.

The recommendation will be presented in a paper to be discussed by the Executive on Thursday and is expected to be signed-off. 

Mr Weir hopes to give schools two weeks' notice before they are due to return.

The original plan was that pupils could return to pre-school, primary and nursery schools following the half-term break in mid-February. 

This is now likely to delayed until Monday 8 March at the earliest due to the ongoing public health situation. 

However, in his paper Mr Weir acknowledges that not all pupils may be able to get back into classroom setting on that date and he raises the potential of a phased return, with children in key exam years returning first.

The minister stressed that any move to bring more children back to school will be dependent on the public health situation at the start of March

Special schools have remained open to pupils, but only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers are able to attend mainstream nursery, primary and post-primary schools at the moment.

Mr Weir is also asking executive colleagues to support his call for special school teachers to be prioritised for Covid-19 vaccinations.

Decisions vaccination prioritisation are ultimately made on a UK-wide basis by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Yesterday, British prime minister Boris Johnson said he hopes to "begin the re-opening of schools" in England from Monday 8 March.

Mr Johnson told MPs: "If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by February 15, and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal, then those groups (will) have developed immunity from the virus about three-weeks later, that is by March 8.

"We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, March 8."

At Thursday’s Executive meeting, Northern Ireland ministers will also be told that the reproduction rate for new cases of Covid-19 is between 0.65 and 0.8.

The R rate for hospital admissions is between 0.8 and 0.9 while for ICU admissions it is between 0.95 and 1.15.

Ministers will also be told that several other main indicators of the virus are tracking downward.

However, the lag period between infection and hospital admissions means the numbers of ICU admissions continues to rise in Northern Ireland.

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