Remote learning is to be extended for pupils in Northern Ireland, it is understood.
Stormont is also facing mounting pressure to postpone exams after the Prime Minister announced an immediate move to remote learning for England on Monday night.
Ministers were locked in talks at Stormont on Monday night to discuss increased lockdown measures as the number of Covid cases soar. Although transfer tests start this weekend, no announcement was made on Monday night.
With all non-essential retail already closed, and a return to school for thousands of children delayed, the Executive’s lockdown options are limited.
The most recent plan was for primary pupils to be taught remotely for the week from January 4-8, while for secondary school Years 8 to 11, remote learning is due to last for the entire month. Sources on Monday night indicated there would be an extended period of remote learning until February.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir would bring recommendations to an Executive meeting today about exams.
Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster had hinted at such a move.
“If it’s the case that we need to close schools as we did in March last year I will deeply regret that,” she said. “But we will of course take whatever action is needed based on the medical evidence in front of us.”
Boris Johnson’s announcement that pushing ahead with all exams in England this summer “as normal” would not be fair or possible also puts pressure on Mr Weir to postpone this weekend’s first transfer test for pupils hoping to attend grammar schools in Northern Ireland.
Mrs O’Neill on Monday called for it to be abandoned. “The transfer tests should not proceed,” the Sinn Fein vice president said. “The Education Minister needs to act now.”
It is understood that the two exams bodies that run the tests will make announcements on Tuesday. Mrs Foster said they were private bodies that make their own decisions, but will have to abide by health advice.
Schools had already been advised by Mr Weir to have contingency plans ready should there be a need to cancel the tests.
A Department of Education spokesperson said: “The minister has highlighted the need to ensure that all schools hosting the tests have carried out a full risk assessment and that the arrangements for the tests are compatible with public health guidance and public health legislation.
“The minister has stressed that there cannot be any compromise to ensuring the safety of children and families.”
But the Department added: “The minister has also highlighted the need for schools to ensure that contingency admissions criteria are in place in the event that entrance tests cannot be operated.”
After his announcement on Monday night, the Prime Minister said the Government had been doing “everything in our power to keep schools open”.
“The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children,” he said, adding that children are still very unlikely to be severely affected even by the new variant of Covid. But he said schools may act as “vectors for transmission”, causing the virus to spread.
He added that all the devolved nations share his thoughts, and are taking similar steps.
SDLP education spokesman Daniel McCrossan has now called on Mr Weir to follow suit.
“The Prime Minister announced that all GCSE and A-Level exams have been cancelled in England,” he said.
“It’s time Peter Weir made the same announcement and cancelled exams and the transfer test. The SDLP have been calling for exams to be cancelled for months. The minister must act.”
Public sector union Nipsa last night called on Mr Weir to close schools “until they are safe”.