Northern Ireland news

School-aged children make up around 40 per cent of all daily Covid-19 cases in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council last night challenged Education Minister Michelle McIlveen and her department to "publish any evidence that supports their position that schools are safe" during the current Covid-19 climate. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
Marie Louise McConville

SCHOOL pupils make up around 40 per cent of all positive Covid-19 cases each day in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) released the figures last night after it was challenged by teaching unions to publish evidence to support the position that schools remain safe.

The Northern Ireland Teachers' Council (NITC) said some schools were sending pupils home as there were no teachers available.

It called on Education Minister Michelle McIlveen to urgently advise schools on the steps they need to take, within the current regulations, when staffing becomes an issue due to the spread of coronavirus.

An NITC spokesman said the body was alarmed that the levels of Covid in schools "have contributed significantly to schools being unable to source enough substitute teachers".

"This is not the only contributing factor, many newly qualified teachers have sought work outside of Northern Ireland where there is better pay and conditions of employment," he said.

"The NITC is particularly concerned with the situation in our special schools.

"Just yesterday the Education Authority sent an email to all substitute teachers appealing for teachers to make themselves available for work in special schools. This is unprecedented and highlights the seriousness of the problem."

He added that in mainstream schools "pupils have been sent home as there are no teachers available to teach them".

"Clearly something is going wrong and the sticking the head in the sand approach of DE and PHA is not working," he said.

"The NITC are calling on DE and PHA to publish any evidence they have that supports their position that schools are safe.

"The minister needs to send a clear message to schools that health and safety must come first and that if pupils cannot be accommodated within existing regulations on class size and teacher cover, that principals will be supported when they send classes home."

A PHA spokeswoman last night said: "Where the agency identifies schools with higher than expected numbers of cases, it works with the school leaders and Education Authority to put steps in place to mitigate risks.

"This may include enhanced testing for classes or year groups along with measures to improve ventilation, social distancing and the use of face coverings where appropriate.

"The PHA also encourages all pupils and staff where appropriate to participate in regular testing using LFD tests designed to identify cases who have no symptoms. Vaccination is available to all staff and some students, and should be encouraged."

The Department of Education was also asked to comment.

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Northern Ireland news