‘Flexible’ guidance issued to schools ahead of return of pupils

Guidance issued to schools ahead of the return of pupils has been designed to be flexible, the Education Minister has said.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 12:29 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 12:30 pm

New guidance issued this week leaves it for schools to determine if and how they wish to continue to use bubbles, but urges that schools seek to reduce contacts and to hold activities outside where they can.

Face coverings are advised for inside all school buildings by post-primary pupils including in classrooms from the start of the new term.

This policy is to be reviewed by the Stormont Executive on October 8.

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P3 children during their lunch break playing in the playground

Michelle McIlveen said the aim is to “provide the best educational environment” while reducing the risk of Covid transmission.

“There are really good practices in place and we have worked alongside school leaders and other educationalists along with trade unions throughout all of this process in order to draft guidance which will allow for flexibility in our schools,” she told the BBC.

Some school leaders have complained the guidance, which comes after a previous Executive decision that schools no longer had to teach children in bubbles, had the potential to confuse.

Ms McIlveen said she “understands there may be this view that there is disbelief and misunderstanding”, however she insisted the department has been “quite clear this is about keeping young people safe”.

“While I have lifted the need for strict bubbles, it will be a particular benefit and for years 8, 9 and 10, who will be able to access all the necessary resources that they need in order to receive the curriculum,” she said.

“In primary schools, by their nature, they tend to have a bubble system, and there may not be the same changes as post primary schools.

“But I think what we’ve tried to achieve here is actually a flexible system and to allow school leaders who know their school environment better than any of us do, to adapt accordingly and to deliver an education but also to keep children safe.”