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Education minister warning on school summer holiday dates

Peter Weir said no decision had been made on when schools in Northern Ireland will reopen.

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No decision has been made on reopening schools in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA)

No decision has been made on reopening schools in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA)

No decision has been made on reopening schools in Northern Ireland (Ben Birchall/PA)

School summer holiday dates may not be sacrosanct when it comes to pupils returning to classes in Northern Ireland, the Education Minister has said.

Peter Weir said no decision had been made on when schools in the region will reopen. He said when they do it will unlikely be on a business-as-usual basis, with a phased return of pupils anticipated alongside the continuation of some remote learning.

When asked could schools potentially reopen in July or August, during what would traditionally be school summer holidays, he said there may be a need for “flexibility” around the school year timeframe.

“Let me say it clearly that there is no planned date for the reopening of schools for normal business,” he said.

Whenever schools do return, it's unlikely that this will be on a business-as-usual basis, there's likely to be a phasing of the return of pupilsEducation Minister Peter Weir

“Any decision on this will be driven by the circumstances, guided by science, scientific and health advice and will not be date driven.

“Many issues need to be addressed before schools could reopen. We are quite sensibly embarking on planning work to consider on scope these issues and I’m committed to full engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including schools and school leavers, before any decisions are taken.

“Whenever schools do return, it’s unlikely that this will be on a business-as-usual basis, there’s likely to be a phasing of the return of pupils alongside a continuation of some form of remote learning and, at all times, the well-being and safety of our pupils and staff would be our key priority.”

Schools in the Irish Republic are due to reopen in September at the start of the new academic year.

On the prospect of schools reopening during the summer in Northern Ireland, Mr Weir told the daily Covid-19 briefing at Stormont: “We’re talking about things that are condition-led and circumstance-led rather than time-led, and to that extent I think we may need to look at whether there’s any level of flexibility in terms of the school year, and from that point of view exact dates may not be sacrosanct on that basis.”

Around 470 schools are currently providing supervision for about 1,300 children whose parents are key workers involved in the Covid-19 response.

Mr Weir said the full reopening of the school estate could not happen “overnight” and schools and parents would need time to prepare for a return to classes.

“There’s got to be a level of lead-in period, particularly for schools to prepare on issues around social distancing,” he said.

“So I believe it’s important that when we come to the point in which the realisation in which that level of reopening can happen on a phased basis, that there’s plenty of notice given to schools and also to parents so they’re able to do that level of preparation for the level of resumption of direct school activities through any form of reopening.”

PA