Number of pupils in schools on rise again
THE number of vulnerable pupils and children of key workers being looked after at school is on the rise again.
Monday would have been the first day of summer term for most pupils, although schools are closed for normal business.
Limited education supervision is being provided for children whose parents are key workers and cannot make alternative arrangements.
The UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said no date has been set for re-opening schools.
He apologised to pupils for the interruption to their studies and said there are no plans to open over the summer holidays.
Results from daily surveys sent to principals by the Department of Education suggested that more than 1,000 children would need to be looked after over the Easter holiday period.
However, numbers attending dropped to their lowest level since the blanket closure began last month.
On Friday of last week they picked up again with 549 children attending 297 schools across the north.
An interactive map published by the Education Authority showed that many schools in counties Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh were open on Friday, but had no pupils attending.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has suggested staggering the return of pupils.
He urged head teachers to start thinking about how a return to school could be safely achieved once the health conditions permit it.
"There could be an argument for some of those younger pupils going in, but equally some of those GCSE students in order to make up some time with them," he said.
His comments came as tens of thousands of people signed a petition opposing any reopening "before it is safe to do so".
The National Education Union, which has members in Northern Ireland, warned that an early return could result in an increased risk to staff and children.
"As yet there is no clarity as to how social distancing would or even could be implemented in schools, particularly for younger age groups," said joint secretary Mary Bousted.
"Even though the majority of children are considered low risk, their teachers and families are not."
Schools in Denmark opened their doors to pupils up to the age of 11 last week as the country relaxed Covid-19 restrictions.
Teaching at schools across Germany is to start again from May 4, initially for students in their final years of primary or secondary education.
Health authorities in the Republic are to examine the potential of re-opening primary schools on a limited basis in the summer.