Full return of pupils in NI ‘a very positive day for young people’ - no “satisfactory alternative” to the post-primary transfer test - mandatory school over the summer holidays ruled out

Northern Ireland’s Education Minister Peter Weir has hailed the full return of all pupils to school as a “very positive day for young people”.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 1:03 pm
Updated Monday, 12th April 2021, 1:29 pm

Speaking on a visit to Sullivan Upper School in Holywood, Co Down, Mr Weir said he felt the very youngest and very oldest in society had “suffered most” during the pandemic.

“I think this is important, not simply from an educational point of view but for the mental health and wellbeing of our young people to be back in with their friends in class, and it’s something I very much welcome,” he said.

Peter Weir ruled out mandatory school over the summer holidays in Northern Ireland but said his officials are bringing forward academic and wellbeing recovery programmes.

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The Education Minister said he was hopeful the proposed programmes will get the support of the Stormont Executive.

He said they will involve some voluntary summer activities to provide some opportunity for “a level of catch-up”.

“We have got to remember there is a lot of good work that has been done directly by way of remote learning, particularly everyone has been a lot more prepared for that from January so it’s not as if education itself stopped during this period,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good work that has been done by schools, teachers and by parents. I suppose it’s no direct substitute for being in school but by the same token we shouldn’t think there was a blank canvas over the last three months.”

Peter Weir

Asked about the situation around exams and assessments, education minister Peter Weir said “robust measurement will be put in place” by local exam board CCEA to try to ensure consistency.

“There is no doubt the ideal situation would be to have examinations, because that’s the best way you can have a level playing field for everybody, but we’re taking every measure that we can in terms of what is in the place of exams to try to make sure they are robust, that they are comparable between students, not only within Northern Ireland but across different jurisdictions,” he said.

Peter Weir ruled out mandatory school over the summer holidays in Northern Ireland but said his officials are bringing forward academic and wellbeing recovery programmes.

The Education Minister said he was hopeful the proposed programmes will get the support of the Stormont Executive.

He said they will involve some voluntary summer activities to provide some opportunity for “a level of catch-up”.

“We have got to remember there is a lot of good work that has been done directly by way of remote learning, particularly everyone has been a lot more prepared for that from January so it’s not as if education itself stopped during this period,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good work that has been done by schools, teachers and by parents. I suppose it’s no direct substitute for being in school but by the same token we shouldn’t think there was a blank canvas over the last three months.”

Education Minister Peter Weir also said there is not a “satisfactory alternative” to the post-primary transfer test, describing other methods of selection as “closing the school gates” to some.

“Schools have a right to use academic selection. Without the transfer test then we fall back on the sort of criteria which largely speaking will have to be used this summer, which will involve quite often particular connections with the school, whether you have a sibling there for instance, and in many ways that shuts the school gates to a large number of students, so there is not a satisfactory alternative to that,” he said.

Mr Weir said he hopes the most recent lockdown will be the last of the school closures.

“Nobody can give an absolute guarantee going into the future but there is a range of mitigations that have been put in place,” he added.

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