Education Minister Michelle McIlveen urged to make decision on how schools will tackle expected Covid surge in January

A teaching union has recommended that pupils’ return to schools in the new year be “staggered” and that on-site testing facilities should be provided.

By Graeme Cousins
Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 4:21 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 6:00 pm
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has been urged to make a decision on what will happen in schools in January before schools close for Christmas.
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has been urged to make a decision on what will happen in schools in January before schools close for Christmas. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

In a letter to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen, the Northern Ireland branch of the NASUWT urged the minister to take extra measures to minimise the spread of Covid in schools in January.

In the letter, the union’s secretary Dr Patrick Roach, asked for decisions to be made before schools close for the Christmas break.

He said: “In light of the evidence emerging daily regarding the impact of the Omicron variant, the latest modelling which suggests that case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths will continue to increase throughout January, and the raising of the Covid threat level to Level 4 in England, I must urge you now to consider the immediate introduction of additional education measures to help slow the spread of Covid-19 and to minimise further disruption to education.

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“In addition to wider community-level measures, we believe that additional measures will be required within schools and colleges now and as they return after the Christmas break.

“Since schools returned after the summer the NASUWT have called for the strengthening of control measures within schools. Since then, the forecast scientific trajectory for the Omicron variant has worsened significantly and available evidence strongly points to the need for additional control measures to be in place now and through the start of next term.

“The NASUWT urges the Executive to act immediately and to not delay critical decisions until the commencement of the school and college holiday period. We ask you to avoid a repeat of the confusion and chaos which last year impacted negatively on public and parental confidence and hampered the hard work of teachers and school leaders in their preparations at the start of 2021.

“An immediate announcement from the executive on additional measures for schools is, we believe, essential before the majority of schools close for the Christmas break.”

NASUWT asked the minister to consider staggering the return of pupils at the start of January, providing additional on-site testing facilities and resources for pupils up to half term in February, publishing further guidance advising schools to cancel or postpone non-essential activities or events, to move to online staff and parental meetings, and to mandate staff working from home where appropriate, during this period.

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