One-week return to remote learning for P1-P3 pupils axed - but no decision about older children

A controversial plan to take primary school children in Northern Ireland back out of classes for the week prior to the Easter holidays has been scrapped.

By David Young
Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:08 pm
Peter Weir has welcomed the latest announcement
Peter Weir has welcomed the latest announcement

Thousands of P1 to P3s returned to school on Monday as the first cohort of pupils to go back to face-to-face learning in the region since the most recent Covid-19 lockdown was introduced.

Nurseries and pre-schools also reopened to all children on Monday.

The next children due back are secondary school pupils in key exam years – year groups 12-14 – on March 22.

Under Stormont’s original plan, P1-P3, nursery and pre-school children were due to resume remote learning in that week, to minimise the impact on community infection rates of the secondary school return.

That proposal had faced criticism from parents and school leaders.

Ministers agreed at Thursday’s Executive meeting that those young children should stay in class.

Education Minister Peter Weir also wants all remaining primary school children – P4 to P7s – to go back to school on March 22, and all remaining secondary pupils – years 8 to 11 – to return after the Easter holidays on April 12.

It is understood the Executive did not make decisions on those proposals on Thursday and is due to examine them again on Tuesday, when ministers formally review the wider lockdown restrictions in place in Northern Ireland.

Education Minister Peter Weir welcomed the decision by the Executive to allow the youngest pupils to continue with face-to-face teaching until the start of the Easter holidays.

He said: “I know that many schools, parents and other pupils want clarity on when more year groups will be returning.

“I will continue to make the case for all pupils to return as soon as practicably possible and in line with public health advice and scientific evidence.

“It is clear that long periods away from the classroom has a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of our children and young people.

“Remote learning, no matter how well provided and delivered, is no replacement for face-to-face learning and educational experience.

“I am particularly conscious of the disproportionate impact that this has on disadvantaged groups and vulnerable children.”

Prior to Monday, only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers had been permitted in school since January.

At Thursday’s Executive, ministers also agreed to extend a financial support measure that has exempted businesses in certain sectors, including hospitality and retail, from paying rates.

The rates holiday is to be extended by a further 12 months.

Meanwhile, the deaths of nine more people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were announced by Stormont’s Department of Health on Thursday, along with another 223 positive cases of the virus.