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Operation guidelines for return of special schools now available

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Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Guidelines have been released by the Department of Education on how special schools will operate when pupils return.

Six thousand children here attend special schools.

Earlier this month it was confirmed that primary and post-primary schools will reopen for staff from August 17, and for priority groups of pupils from August 24.

Special schools will follow the same reopening timetable.

"Pupils who attend special schools are among our most vulnerable children and young people," said Education Minister Peter Weir.

"These pupils, their parents and carers have been significantly impacted by the lack of structure and learning that schools provide to them. I am aware that many special schools have expressed concerns about the number and complexity of considerations in relation to the safe reopening of their schools, including staffing levels and ensuring the right levels of support are in place for pupils," he added.

In guidance published yesterday, the department set out how special schools should manage issues such as social distancing, hygiene and catering to maximise the safety of pupils and staff when they return to school.

Recognising that transport to school may be difficult, the new guidance suggests parents may drop off and pick up children themselves. It also says special schools could introduce measures such as:

  • part-time timetables;
  • blended school and home learning; and
  • phased returns for individuals or groups.

Minister Weir said his department's objective was to "ensure that services to vulnerable children and young people, including those with special educational needs (SEN), are reinstated in a safe and effective manner when schools return.

The DUP minister said: "I appreciate that this model may not be possible for all special schools as some children who attend are as young as three, while other settings may only be a nursery, primary or post-primary. My objective is to maximise face-to-face teaching time for all pupils at the earliest opportunity."

The guidance comes just days after it was learned that almost 300 SEN pupils will not have places in special schools this coming September. It's understood that the pressure on places is greatest in the Belfast and Newry areas.

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said: "We are continuing to work closely with parents and schools to confirm appropriate placements for children with a statement of special educational needs.

"We appreciate that this can be an anxious time for families and we remain committed to working with them to secure placements that best meet the needs of each individual child."

Belfast Telegraph