Northern Ireland news

All pupils in schools 'immediately following Easter holidays'

With some younger age groups due to return to classrooms from Monday, education is already about to enter step two

ALL children will go back to school immediately after Easter - if community transmission remains low.

With some younger children due to return to classrooms from Monday, education is about to enter step two of the executive's five step plan.

It has previously been confirmed there will be a phased restart from March 8.

Pre-school, nursery and P1-3 pupils will resume face-to-face learning on that date.

Those in secondary Years 12-14, who will be awarded qualifications this summer, will go back two weeks later.

To enable the return of secondary-age pupils, pre-school/nursery and P1-3 will switch to remote learning again on March 22.

First Minister Arlene Foster had expressed hope that these younger age groups could ultimately remain in school that week to avoid disruption.

There are no firm plans yet for pupils in P4 through to Year 11.

There are no dates for schools in the executive's document but it said: "Subject to the levels of community transmission, the return of other pupils to school will commence immediately following the Easter holidays with the aim of all children returning to schools as soon as possible."

Education is already at step one. School buildings are closed except for vulnerable and key workers' children. Essential face-to-face learning for higher and further education students and apprentices is permitted while special schools, childcare and targeted youth services are open.

Step two, which will begin next week, involves the partial return to classroom teaching. Remote and online learning remains an option. There will also be the partial return to practical face-to-face learning for FE students and apprentices.

Step three will involve the full return to classroom teaching as well as the resumption of a wider range of outdoor learning. In addition, extended schools activity will resume and there will be a further re-opening of generic youth services.

At step four, there will be increased face-to-face teaching for higher and further education students, and apprentices. Inter-schools sport will be allowed. School clubs, FE colleges and university student extra-curricular and support activities and youth services will resume.

By step five, FE colleges and universities will move towards more face-to face teaching. Spectators will be allowed at school sports and performance events.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill reminded the assembly yesterday that two phases for schools had already been announced, with a third to follow after Easter.

"The executive is committed to getting education back as quickly as possible for the sake of children and young people, for their education, for their wellbeing and for their future aspirations," she said.

"We will do this for parents too, in partnership with our colleagues in the education system, who are working so hard to adapt to the current pressures."

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