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NI students quiz Education Minister Weir over impact of coronavirus crisis on education

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Education Minister Peter Weir answers pupils' questions via webcam

Education Minister Peter Weir answers pupils' questions via webcam

Education Minister Peter Weir answers pupils' questions via webcam

Stormont Minister Peter Weir has faced a virtual grilling from students across Northern Ireland on the impact of the current Covid-19 crisis on the education sector.

Stormont Minister Peter Weir has faced a virtual grilling from students across Northern Ireland on the impact of the current Covid-19 crisis on the education sector.

Eight pupils from post-primary schools took part in yesterday's virtual press conference with the Education Minister.

The students represented Magherafelt High School; Fivemiletown College; Arvalee Special School, Omagh; Banbridge Academy; St Malachy's College, Belfast; Holy Cross College, Strabane; Our Lady and St Patrick's College, Belfast, and Strangford Integrated College.

When asked about the impact of social distancing on pupils returning to the classroom, Mr Weir said: "It is likely that when we see schools resuming and, assuming we are still in the problems of the pandemic, that that will mean that with social distancing, we will have to limit numbers [in schools]."

The minister was also questioned on issues including examinations, mental health, transport and the timeline for schools reopening after the summer term.

Sarah Bradley, a Year 13 student at Holy Cross, asked the minister if he had made "a hasty decision" in announcing the cancellation of A-level and GSCE exams and if they could have taken place with social distancing measures in place as schools are now empty.

Mr Weir said the decision to cancel exams had been taken based on "strong medical advice" and "to give people as much certainty as possible".

He added: "From talking to exam experts, the worst thing we could have done would have been to say that there might or might not be exams and then in the run-up to exams to have pulled the plug. I think that would have been devastating for a lot of people. You are talking about 20,000 pupils a year doing exams so it would have been really difficult to do that [with] all elements of social distancing.

"If you look at what we are doing in Northern Ireland, it is very similar to what is happening in other nearby countries."

Mr Weir added that he believed it would have been "really unfair" for students to have sat exams having been out of school since March.

Speaking afterwards, the minister said: "I have always tried, where possible, to have as much direct engagement with stakeholders in the education sector, and who better to listen to than those actually experiencing it?

"I was highly impressed by both the range and depth of questioning.

"I want to thank the principals who helped make this press conference happen and for their continuing work in coordinating remote learning and preparing for the reopening of schools after the summer term."

Belfast Telegraph