Northern Ireland’s education unions have said any further Executive decisions to ease Covid restrictions in schools ahead of the new term would be “ill advised”.
The Executive will meet this week to discuss rules for schools ahead of the new term which starts in less than two weeks, with head teachers still waiting for clear guidance on what measure need to be implemented.
But the NIC-ICTU Education Trade Union Group has said the mitigations in place in June should remain in place in schools across Northern Ireland
Last week, the Executive announced the end of class bubbles for primary and post-primary students.
Ministers are expected to set out further guidance this week on social distancing and face coverings in the new term.
However, they said they have decided to retain face coverings for post-primary students in classrooms for the first six weeks of term, subject to a review.
But schools are still awaiting clarity over other issues, including Covid testing and self-isolation for any pupil or teacher who returns a positive test.
Chair of the NIC-ICTU Maxine Murphy-Higgins has called for the mitigations that were in place in June to remain in place for schools, as they prepare for the new term.
“As we see the infection rates rise, particularly among our school age population, it seems ill advised to be withdrawing the mitigations,” she said.
“It would seem the right thing to do would be to keep the mitigations in place to establish the extent of the impact the return to school will have on the infection rates.
“We all have a civic responsibility to play our part in the fight against the virus and we are all alarmed at the increased rate of infections and deaths.
“We see no reason to relax the mitigations. The decision by the NI Executive to state that bubbles are no longer required will make it impossible to trace close contacts.
“With the ‘bubbling’ gone and larger meetings being allowed, combined with those who are double vaccinated not having to self-isolate, we can only see the infection rate going one way.
“We are still awaiting revised guidance but it appears that it will put further pressure on individual principals to make decisions in relation to their own school and fails to offer practical and helpful support. More importantly, it doesn’t answer the key questions that school staff and leaders have in an unambiguous way so schools can open safely.”
In a letter to school principals, Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said: “I understand there will be a number of issues which you would like to have clarity on to support your preparation for the return of pupils. My officials have been reviewing the Department’s Covid-19 guidance for educational settings over the summer and it remains my intention to publish this ahead of the new term.”