Northern Ireland news

Frustration as no clarity yet on return to school

PRINCIPALS fear the executive has left it too late to allow all primary school children to return before Easter.

Head teachers expressed disappointment last night after a much-anticipated announcement on schools provided no clarity for P4-7 pupils.

A decision on whether they can go back as early as March 22 has been pushed into next week.

If agreed, schools would have just two working days to prepare.

The return of P4-7 pupils was one of three matters included in a paper presented to the executive by Education Minister Peter Weir yesterday.

Ministers agreed to allow P1-3 pupils, who started back on Monday, to remain in classrooms until after Easter - scrapping plans to ask them to resume remote learning on March 22.

But they failed to reach consensus on either a March 22 return for P4-7 or all pupils going back on April 12.

This has been pushed back until Tuesday of next week when the executive will undertake a review of wider lockdown restrictions.

Parents and principals last night voiced their frustration.

Chris Donnelly, principal of St John the Baptist PS in west Belfast, said there was likely to be little change between now and next Tuesday.

"Schools and parents need time to prepare, both for the return of children and in event of continuation of remote learning," he said.

"Tuesday is too late to make an announcement about kids returning on the 22nd. No reason why that decision can't be made between now and the start of next week if the political will existed."

Diane Dawson from Braniel PS also said the delay was "not good enough" but predicable.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said yesterday she understood that schools and families needed notice to prepare and more clarity would be provided soon.

With the 'R' number remaining below 1, she said the north was "on the cusp of brighter days" but warned that celebrating Mother's Day or St Patrick's Day in groups poses a "serious risk to a fragile situation".

Meanwhile, ministers yesterday agreed extending rates relief for almost 30,000 businesses for another 12 months in a package worth £230m.

A support scheme was also announced for travel agents.

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Northern Ireland news