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Coronavirus: Teacher unions await further detail on workings of return to school plan

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First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

PA

First Minister Arlene Foster

Teaching unions were staying tight-lipped last night after the Executive announced that pupils in three key years will go back to school from August 24 on a phased basis, with other pupils returning at the start of September.

Social distancing will also be relaxed - there will only need to be one metre between pupils, with two metres between the teacher and the class.

This will allow schools to function "close to normality", First Minister Arlene Foster told a Stormont Press briefing yesterday.

Further detailed guidance is to be made available to schools today.

Teaching union sources said last night they wanted to see the detailed guidance before commenting on the proposals. Mrs Foster said: "The reopening of our schools will be a great relief for families.

"Parents have had to home school over the last few months and I know many pupils have missed meeting up with their classmates.

"The reopening will be on a phased basis and it is important that the conversations continue with those who have the shared goal of giving all our children the very best education possible so that the disruptions can be kept to a minimum.

"The summer schemes for children with educational needs and those of some key workers is also important and reinforces the Executive's commitment to supporting families during these most difficult of times."

But Paul Bell, principal of Botanic Primary School in Belfast's Holy Lands area, said he thought that even with social distancing at one metre, the return to school plan was "impossible" given the physical size of classrooms.

"I'm sitting here trying to work out how I could possibly place desks in a primary classroom," he told the BBC's Evening Extra programme.

"My classrooms are 56 metres square.

"It would be a tight squeeze to put 15 children into that room - and that's half a class.

"I have no idea who has done the mathematics to indicate in any way that you could put a full class of 30 pupils into that room and still have two metres for the teacher."

A series of targeted activities to support children and young people is also to be set up over the summer, including a programme to support children who are in receipt of free school meals.

Belfast Telegraph