| 11.9°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Education Minister Peter Weir unveils a 53-page rulebook for ensuring safety in the classroom


A socially distanced lesson in Bovingdon Primary School in Hertfordshire

A socially distanced lesson in Bovingdon Primary School in Hertfordshire


Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Classroom layout with 2m pupil and 2m teacher spacing

Classroom layout with 2m pupil and 2m teacher spacing

Classroom layout with 1m pupil and 2m teacher spacing

Classroom layout with 1m pupil and 2m teacher spacing

A socially distanced lesson in Bovingdon Primary School in Hertfordshire

Children should not wear PPE in classrooms and staff should only wear it in very limited circumstances, according to new recommendations on school reopenings from the Department of Education.

The guidance envisages primary school children receiving a minimum of 40% face-to-face teaching in the classroom, with the rest remotely at home in what is called a 'blended learning' approach.

Secondary school pupils will be in the classroom for at least 50% of the time, raising the possibility that they could attend school on alternate weeks.

Schools will return in the autumn based on one-metre social distancing between pupils, and 2m between pupils and staff.

Teachers' unions on Friday night said they would prefer to digest the 53-page document from Education Minister Peter Weir before commenting in detail.

But Gerry Murphy, the Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, said: "We are consulting with our membership and will issue guidance to them early next week."

Mr Weir said his recommendations had been drawn up in consultation with trade unions.

"My ambition has always been for the full-time resumption of classroom-based learning for all pupils as soon as it is safely possible to do so," he said.

"I full appreciate the stresses felt by teachers, parents and pupils during this time of disruption and uncertainty."


Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

The document warns that children who refuse to follow social distancing arrangements and "deliberately cough or spit at pupils or staff putting them at risk" could face exclusion.

The Department of Education recommendations include a possible ban on school bags and pencil cases, pupils taking meals in classrooms, and staggered arrival and departure times.

The guidance acknowledges that not all schools will be able to bring back all pupils full-time under the one-metre social distancing requirements.

But primary schools which are unable to operate at full capacity must ensure pupils have at least two days a week in the classroom, and secondary schools must ensure pupils' learning is based on at least 50% class time.

Pupils in years eight to 10 will be kept in small protective bubbles to limit mixing with older children. The latter won't be in bubbles as they will be expected to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The bubble model for younger pupils will be maintained during meal and playtimes.

Staggered arrival and departure times are aimed at preventing parents gathering at the school gates.

Children could be prevented from bringing bags into school and also from taking items home at the end of the day.

The document says that coronavirus can "land on fabrics and remain for some time". But while pupils are encouraged to "wear clean uniform or fresh clothes each day", it is not made compulsory as "schools are not a high-risk environment".

Schools are encouraged to make maximum use of their buildings to ensure as many children as possible can be present while maintaining distancing.

Dining and assembly halls could be repurposed as classrooms if temporary screens are used to divide the space. Informal outdoor classrooms are also suggested.

Door handles and desk tops will be cleaned regularly throughout the day. One-way corridors and a "no bell" strategy to allow flexibility on class start and finish times, and to avoid "the intensity of (pupil) flow", are also proposed.

Secondary schools are urged to consider a model whereby the teacher moves between classes, not the children.

It is suggested that school meals could be delivered to classrooms with disposable containers and cutlery.

Pupils will be asked to wash their hands on arrival at school and regularly during the day.

"PPE will only be required in a very small number of cases - for example dealing with intimate needs/giving medication. PPE should not be worn by children," the document adds.

If a child develops Covid-like symptoms they should be moved into isolation until a parent collects them.

"If it is not possible to isolate the child, move them to an area which is at least 2m away from other people," the document says.

It adds that "appropriate adult supervision should be provided as required. If the child needs to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should use a separate bathroom if possible. The bathroom should be cleaned and disinfected before being used by anyone else".

"PPE should be worn by staff caring for the child while they await collection if direct personal care is needed and a distance of 2m cannot be maintained - such as for a very young child or (one) with complex needs."

Belfast Telegraph