Northern Ireland news

Michelle McIlveen offers to meet assembly education committee amid calls for her to address 'some real urgent issues' in schools

Education minister Michelle McIlveen. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

MICHELLE McIlveen last night said she has offered to meet the assembly education committee next week amid calls for her to address "some real urgent issues" in schools impacted by rising Covid-19 rates.

It comes after some committee members yesterday accused the education minister of being "disrespectful" in not appearing before them to discuss the current crisis in schools.

Members were also critical of the minister after correspondence from the Department of Education had indicated she was "unavailable until January 12" to meet.

The committee has been calling "for an urgent meeting" with Ms McIlveen amid the increasing coronavirus cases among pupils and school staff.

Earlier this week, representatives of teaching unions told the committee of their concerns around the transmission of the virus in schools and issues around securing substitute teachers.

Committee chairman and Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle yesterday said unions had indicated the "very clear message that there is a need for leadership and guidance around a number of key issues" including the detection of the Omicron variant, mass gatherings in schools, ventilation and the "staff shortage crisis".

He criticised Ms McIlveen's failure to appear and said "it was and is incumbent on the education minister to give a very, very clear public statement and public response to those issues".

"I think it regrettable, I think it is disrespectful, I think it is missed opportunity that we are affording the education minister to come and make that type of public statement to schools, parents, pupils and staff across Northern Ireland," he said.

"The date we have been offered for a meeting is 12th January, but these issues are pertinent now in terms of guidance around pre-Christmas gatherings, ventilation, staff cover - they're live and urgent now."

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan also said he believed it was "unacceptable" that the minister had not appeared "given the crisis that is present in schools".

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan also said it was "disappointing that the minister isn't in attendance".

"There are a number of significant and pressing issues to be addressed, which we need to divert the attention of the minister to," he said.

"I'm sure she is aware of this given they have been going on for a number of weeks."

However, a spokesperson for Ms McIlveen last night said that "the minister has offered to meet the committee on Friday, 17 December".

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Northern Ireland news