While MLAs gather at Stormont to debate the ongoing crisis in schools, pupils still turn up for class while they can.
School leaders have spent another weekend trying to arrange cover for absent teachers with little success.
In the midst of it all, the pupils themselves are left wondering if their class will be operating.
It’s a daily fear, with pupils left feeling unsafe in the school environment, despite wanting to be in school every day.
The last thing they want is the message that they can’t come to school, yet most are expecting some sort of return to remote learning as the NI Executive hasn’t made any changes to the guidelines issued before the Christmas holidays.
Throughout December, the number of teachers off through Covid isolation rules was steadily rising. The number of substitute teachers was steadily falling. The number of classes having to revert to remote learning was steadily rising. The belief that the Department was doing the right thing by schools, teachers and pupils was steadily falling.
One principal, from a Co Down primary school, said last week his pupils were being taught in a temperature of 2 degrees, with C02 monitors telling him the windows and doors had to be open to improve ventilation.
“The children were sitting in scarves and hats,” the principal told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It shouldn’t have been hard to know that winter can be cold in Northern Ireland. The Department was warned about this months ago, but nothing was done to plan for it.”
As for the pupils, the stories come of icy cold classrooms with a quarter of the class absent, with no teacher to teach and the growing prospect of learning from home again.
For Dermot Hamill (17), who attends St Colman’s College in Newry, it’s impossible to feel safe in a building with over 1,000 pupils despite the constant reassurances that schools remain the safest place for children to be.
“While I have to praise all the teachers and staff doing everything they can to make schools safe, the bottom line is that we simply are not safe,” he said.
“Case numbers in Northern Ireland are skyrocketing and it’s impossible to feel secure in a building with 1,000 people there.
“The virus is tearing through schools, students are off, staff are off and teachers are off. Classrooms are freezing because the only option for school safety is to open the windows, while that may work in summer time, January snow isn’t nice during history class.”
He just wants politicians to listen to what the real school experience is. So, too, does Eilidh O’Connor (16), a pupil at Lumen Christi College in Derry.
“Coming back into school last week has was slightly concerning,” she admitted.
“Windows and doors are open in every classroom as our teachers are doing their best to keep us safe.
“However, with the current weather conditions and freezing temperatures, that’s just not sustainable.
“Students are being put at risk of catching other illnesses such as pneumonia. It is crucial that Minister McIlveen acts now. We need HEPA filters in every classroom because the current environment is not conducive to teaching and learning.”
Morgan Shuttleworth (17), a pupil at Methodist College and president of the Secondary Students’ Union (SSUNI), which represents over 40,000 pupils in Northern Ireland, said there’s an expectation amongst pupils that remote learning will come into play for most of them at some stage this term.
“They see empty classes with maybe a quarter of the class missing and no teacher to teach the students that are there, and yet what they aren’t seeing is any support from the Department,” he said.