Young people endure the 'toughest of years'
YOUNG people have been deeply affected throughout "the toughest of years", Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has said.
Ms O'Neill visited St Pius X College in Magherafelt today where she spoke with exam year pupils.
Years 12-14 students resumed face-to-face learning this week.
Many across the north are taking in-school assessments to help with the awarding of GCSE, AS and A-level grades following the cancellation of summer exams.
Pupils at St Pius' shared their experiences of the last 12 months with Ms O'Neill.
She said the pandemic had hit young people hard.
Ms O'Neill also praised the teaching and non-teaching staff for their work to support pupils.
"We hear so often that, thankfully, the majority of young people are not seriously affected by the virus. But, sadly the educational, emotional and physical impacts of the pandemic on their lives have been deep and severe," she said.
"One year ago this week the executive took the hugely difficult, but necessary, decision to close our schools as part of efforts to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. That marked the beginning of the toughest of years for our young people, who have had their lives turned upside down."
A year was a long time for anyone, Ms O'Neill added, but particularly for school pupils - a time when they relied on the support of friends, experienced rites of passage usually taken for granted and prepared for the next steps of education, training or work.
"I know it has been particularly difficult for those in exam years who have been worried about how the disruption will impact on their futures. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with students at St Pius X College in Magherafelt, at the end of their first week back in the classroom," she said.
"They are a really inspirational group of young people who spoke candidly to me about the many challenges they have faced over the last year - remote learning, looking after their wellbeing, staying apart from their friends, and missing the things they enjoy.
"It was wonderful to see the students back in class and looking to the future with hope. We very much look forward to the planned return of all remaining students to the school."
The last remaining age groups to return - Years 8-11 - are due to go back to classrooms on April 12, after the Easter holidays.