Coronavirus: First day back to school for many pupils in NI

Students in a classroom with their hands upImage copyright
PA Media

Many pupils in years seven, 12 and 14 are back at school on Monday for the first time since March.

Schools closed to all but a few pupils that month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Education Minister Peter Weir has said that opening schools was probably the “top priority” for the executive.

However, a County Antrim school has said it will not be opening on Monday after a pupil tested positive for Covid-19.

The principal of Ballyclare Secondary School said the pupil had been in the school on Thursday, 20 August.

“Our school is cleaned every day and was cleaned on Friday afternoon,” said Kathryn Bell on Sunday.

“However, to comply with guidance, our school will not be open tomorrow to allow for the 72-hour incubation period from the last clean.”

She added: “The school building will be a safe place to return to on Tuesday, 25 August.”

‘Schools left unsupported’

A union representing many principals told a Stormont’s committee there is still a “real risk” that many schools will only be able to open part-time.

According to Department of Education (DE) guidance school leaders, for example, must carry out individual risk assessments to assess whether it is safe for some vulnerable staff and pupils to return to school.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that “school leaders have been left unsupported to make serious decisions on risk with potentially very serious ramifications”.

  • All pupils to return to school full-time
  • Face coverings ‘encouraged’ but not for ‘routine use’ in schools

Guidance for the reopening of schools states that face coverings are “strongly encouraged” in NI schools if social distancing is not possible, but are “not generally recommended for routine use”.

A number of schools have already said that they will be encouraging the wearing of face coverings and Belfast Royal Academy is making it mandatory for pupils and staff to wear face coverings when they return.

The guidance for the journey to and from school is that it is “strongly recommended that all pupils, regardless of age, should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school” if it is appropriate in their case.

Schools are also required to keep most pupils in whole-class “bubbles” to limit mixing.

The need for “bubbles” will mean that most pupils should stay in their own class groups for the entire school day and not mix with pupils in other classes.

  • All pupils to return to school full-time
  • Face coverings ‘encouraged’ but not for ‘routine use’ in schools

In many schools there will be measures in place such as:

  • Staggered starts and ends to the school day so parents are not dropping all children off at once
  • Staggered meal and break times so children are not mixing in the playground with a lot of others at one time
  • School meals may have to be eaten in classrooms or even outside
  • One-way systems in school corridors
  • Children may not be able to bring things like books or stationery home and then back to school
  • Items such as Lego and soft toys that are difficult to clean are likely to disappear from classes

Previous ‘Education Restart’ guidance issued by the department in June had suggested that many pupils may only be able to return to school part-time in September.

Image copyright
Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/Pa Wire

Image caption

Education Minister Peter Weir said this year must be considered “unique”

Many students starting back at school will have received examination grades last week.

There was a significant rise in the number of top GCSE grades awarded in Northern Ireland, just days after the education minister said they would be solely based on grades provided by schools.

Mr Weir also made a similar decision on A-Level and AS grades which had already been awarded to students.

BBC News