Education Minister Peter Weir has pledged schools will operate with a skeleton staff in order to accommodate children of healthcare workers from Monday.
The DUP MLA said the schools would provide a combination of childcare and supervised learning in a bid to try and keep workers on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in hospitals.
He said he would be writing to schools to outline what specific measures would be in place and work was underway to identify categories of key workers.
On Wednesday evening First Minister Arlene Foster announced a shutdown of schools from next week in a bid to contain the virus outbreak. However, there have been concerns the move would impact staffing across Northern Ireland health trust with parents forced to take leave.
The education minister said his department will be working with all other Stormont department’s to establish a list of categories of key workers.
Mr Weir told the BBC Nolan show: “If you are providing health support, you count as a key health worker.
“That is the immediate problem because if there is nothing put in place on Monday there is a danger of a large number of staff not being able to work and it would hit the health side of it.
“What will happen with that will be that schools will be contacted, because they have the data on every parent, they will be contacting parents on the basis of ‘do you fit into one of these categories, do you want to avail of a place.”
Mr Weir added: “The key aim is to get for healthcare workers that school provision and childcare provision, to put that in place. There will be cooperation across the system to do that, it is a tall order.”
I have just announced that all GCSE, AS & A2 exams this summer will now not proceed. I am issuing all schools with further guidance on this now.— Peter Weir (@peterweirmla) March 19, 2020
The minister gave “an absolute assurance” children will get GCSE and A-Level qualifications.
“That is something that will operate across all of the UK. Those qualifications have implications for university places as we move forward,” he added.
“Very good work has gone on by CCEA. They have been working in conjunction with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.”
On Thursday evening, Mr Weir confirmed GCSE, AS Level and A Level exams will not take place this summer.