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Decision over return of pupils to be made within week: Weir

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Prediction: Peter Weir says go-ahead may come on Thursday or shortly thereafter

Prediction: Peter Weir says go-ahead may come on Thursday or shortly thereafter

Prediction: Peter Weir says go-ahead may come on Thursday or shortly thereafter

Definitive decisions could be taken on Thursday on reopening schools, the Education Minister has said.

Peter Weir added he would not want to wait more than a week before making the call.

The Executive, which meets on Thursday, has already said it will be March 8 at the earliest before schools can open their gates to more pupils.

Mr Weir told BBC Evening Extra: "If it is not something definitive on Thursday it would need to be something fairly soon after that."

Current arrangements only allow vulnerable children and those of key workers to attend classes.

Separately, Mr Weir said he would back any move to hold next November's transfer tests in primary schools rather than allowing pupils to gather in centralised locations to sit the exam.

One of the examining bodies, AQE Ltd, has already indicated it is planning to hold the transfer test, which is used by grammar schools to select pupil intake into Year 8.

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And the door has now been opened to allow children to sit the test in their own schools, though the minister said any arrangements would have to be across the board, with agreement from all stakeholders to prevent some pupils having the unfair advantage of taking the test in familiar surroundings.

Mr Weir said it was "vital" that AQE now engages with "pupils, parents and other stakeholders" to explain their approach to how the tests will be conducted.

The organisers of the tests would need to agree, he said, adding that prior to 2016 primary schools were not permitted to be used for the exams, but he had lifted that barrier five years ago.

The minister was taking questions at the Assembly yesterday and added that any such arrangement would require "the buy-in of primary schools themselves", but he said he was now aiming to "proceed with engagement" on the issue.

AQE Ltd has already indicated that discussions are under way if the transfer test should proceed in November, after attempts to hold the test last November, then again in January, and at the end of this month, were thwarted by the Covid restrictions.

The other examining body, the Post Primary Transfer Consortium (PPTC), which runs the exam on behalf of a majority of Catholic grammar schools, has not yet indicted whether it intends to hold the test.

The AQE said negotiations have now started with grammar schools on the procedures for next year after cancelling all tests for current P7 pupils.

"AQE and its 34 member grammar schools intend to initiate preparations for proceeding with the assessment for the next academic year," said Dr Darrin Barr, co-chief executive of AQE Limited.

"However, this will all be kept under review due to Covid-19.

"The safety and wellbeing of the children are our main priorities."


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