Education news

Union says schools in NI may need to `look at a longer self-isolation' period

Schools in Northern Ireland have faced a "tsunami" of Covid-19 cases and related absences in recent days
Marie Louise McConville

THERE may be a need for schools in Northern Ireland to "look at a longer self-isolation" period, the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) has warned.

Jacquie White, UTU general secretary, said the system has been "overwhelmed" in recent days as it faced a "tsunami" of Covid-19 cases and related absences.

The union's comments come as some principals have criticised the guidance for self-isolation and the availability of tests.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been recalled and is to meet today to discuss the situation in schools.

The current guidance from the Public Health Agency advises that pupils who are close contacts of a positive case can avoid self-isolation if they had recently tested positive themselves with a PCR test and have no symptoms.

If a pupil is a close contact and has no symptoms, but has not had a positive PCR test in the previous 90 days, they are advised to self-isolate until they have taken a test.

Ms White said there may be a need for schools to "look at a longer self-isolation" period.

She also dismissed a suggestion by First Minister Paul Givan, that lateral flow testing be used to prevent so many pupils needing to self-isolate, saying "there isn't confidence in the system with lateral flow testing".

Speaking on BBC NI's Good Morning Ulster programme, Ms White said lateral flow tests are only "indicative tests".

"In order to actually be satisfied in terms of a diagnosis, you have to have a PCR test," she said.

"What we may have to do is just stop, take a breath, strengthen some of the mitigations in school until we get a handle on this situation".

Addressing the issue this week, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said detailed discussions were "ongoing between my department and the Department of Health on measures to alleviate current pressures facing our schools as a result of Covid-19.

"Proposals are being finalised and will be discussed with relevant stakeholders this week," she said.

"I recognise that the start of the new school year has been stressful for parents, children and school staff.

"The public health grounds for keeping and supporting children at school are very strong in terms of supporting their education and emotional well-being".

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