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Coronavirus: NI schools offer to teach children remotely in run up to Christmas

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Several Northern Ireland schools have said pupils will have the option to be taught remotely from home in the final week of term.

The principals of Ebrington and Lisnagelvin primary schools in Londonderry have told parents that they would prepare work for pupils to complete if they wanted to keep children off after this Friday.

St Ronan’s PS in Newry, Braniel PS in east Belfast alongside Glengormley High School have also decided to offer parents the option to have their children educated at home after this week.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

Teaching unions and school principals, along with parents, had been hoping the Christmas closure date would be brought forward to December 11 — on the basis that a child or teacher testing positive for Covid-19 will ruin Christmas for families.

On Monday the Department of Health said a further nine people have died with Covid-19 in Northern Ireland and a further 397 people tested positive for the virus.

While the school term officially ends on Friday, December 18, many parents have indicated that they would prefer their children to be at home sooner in the run up to the festive holidays rather than risking having to self-isolate over Christmas.

Ebrington Primary School principal, Brian Guthrie, has said neither he nor Lisnagelvin head Colin Torrens are “trying to get around any rules” by opting for home schooling.

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Lisnagelvin PS principal Colin Torrens

Lisnagelvin PS principal Colin Torrens

Lisnagelvin PS principal Colin Torrens

In letters sent to parents, the principals also said that those pupils who decide to do schoolwork at home in the final week of term will not be marked absent.

He still expects at least 300 of the school’s 475 pupils to be in the classroom before the Christmas break while those remaining at home will be contacted by their teachers every day next week.

Mr Guthrie told BBC Radio Foyle on Monday: “The teachers will all be in school and we will have a vast number of our pupils in school also.

“Teachers will be supporting pupils within the classroom and those at home via remote blended learning.”

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Strong views: Ebrington PS principal Brian Guthrie

Strong views: Ebrington PS principal Brian Guthrie

Strong views: Ebrington PS principal Brian Guthrie

Mr Guthrie added: “I personally think that this week would have been the perfect opportunity for all schools to have gone down the road of not closing early but providing a blended remote learning model for the week leading up to Christmas to help protect it for all families involved.

“We have had a very, very positive reaction from parents who have thanked us for thinking of them and their families in the lead up to Christmas.”

Mr Guthrie said the move means families will have the option to keep children off school during the last week of term to help protect family Christmas time, particularly for those with “at risk” or elderly relatives.

“We just think it’s the right thing to do,” he added.

Education Minister Peter Weir has consistently said that there are no plans to extend the Christmas holidays for schools.

A Department of Education spokesperson said on Monday: “Schools will be open next week and children will be receiving face to face teaching.

“This is the best form of education and our schools are the best place to provide this in a controlled and safe environment.

“The Minister believes that further disruption to children’s education would lead to an increase in levels of stress and anxiety,” they added.

“The Minister’s main priority is to guard children’s education, mental health and well-being.”

On Friday Methodist College in Belfast sent 500 sixth form pupils home following a coronavirus outbreak at the school.


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