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Education Minister says there's a case for priority jabs for teachers - but claims schools remain 'a safe place'


Minister Peter Weir

Minister Peter Weir

Minister Peter Weir

The Education Minister has said there will be "no solo run" from his Department in fast tracking Covid vaccinations for education staff.

Peter Weir was asked by Stormont Education Committee deputy chair Karen Mullan yesterday if teachers will be included in the Covid-19 vaccination prioritisation list.

Mr Weir said he believes the Executive should make a case to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) for prioritisation for teachers to enable the continuation of school learning.

However, he noted that decisions are taken on a UK-wide basis.

Meanwhile, with A-level, AS and GCSE exams cancelled this summer, the Minister said he would be in a position to set out the alternative grading approach "by the end of this month".

"People had to work very quickly last year," he said. "As a result some people "got a very unfair level of grading. There will be a lot of anxiety out there. There have been wider measures that have been taken than any of us would have liked to have taken in that regard. The best case scenario in all cases is that examinations take place.

"But there have been six weeks of remote learning, creating a level of disruption in preparation for June examinations," he said. "The overriding desire is to ensure that students in Northern Ireland are not disadvantaged."

But the Minister maintained that schools remain "a safe place."

"The experience of the first lockdown was a sharp learning curve," he said. "I would say that schools are a very safe place.

"Nowhere is entirely risk free, but the actions that we're taking (on remote learning) are not on the basis of particularly what is happening in the classroom, but on the wider context to which schools being open contributed to the situation."

The DUP Minister came under fire over the continued opening of special schools.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty challenged him to do more to support "scared and frightened" teachers.

He described being told of a special school where 90 out of 140 pupils were attending, but 38 of its 100 staff are absent.

He expressed his anger that special schools "are being treated like mainstream schools."

Mr Weir said where substitute teachers can be provided, they will be sent into classrooms, but stressed there are fewer teachers qualified to work in special schools.

He said it was a difficult time for everyone and his officials are "liaising closely" with the schools. "There is a clear need for those schools to be open, particularly for many parents who need that help in terms of their child being at school," he said.

Belfast Telegraph