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Pupils get set for school return despite Omicron spread: What you need to know

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Stock image: Year 8 pupils at Sullivan Upper in Holywood returning to school last year. Picture: Pacemaker Press.

Stock image: Year 8 pupils at Sullivan Upper in Holywood returning to school last year. Picture: Pacemaker Press.

Stock image: Year 8 pupils at Sullivan Upper in Holywood returning to school last year. Picture: Pacemaker Press.

As pupils begin to return to the classroom this week amid the ongoing spread of the Omicron variant, here’s what you need to know ahead of the new term…

When do the schools return?

According to the Department of Education (DE) website, schools are returning from the Christmas break on Tuesday but it is likely to be a staggered start.

The latest Covid-19 statistics by the Department of Health on Friday, revealed a record daily high of 7,215 new cases.

Do pupils and teachers need to take a Covid-19 test?

The DE tweeted on Sunday that schools have been encouraged to ask all staff and post-primary pupils to take a lateral flow test 24 hours before their return to school.

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What are the restrictions in schools?

Despite a growing number of positive cases in the community, no changes were made to the current restrictions in schools by the Executive following their meeting on Thursday.

Social distancing, guidance around indoor and outdoor gatherings, pupil/staff movement within schools and the use of coverings in some settings are all still encouraged in schools.

Do the teaching unions have any concerns?

Following the decision not to make any changes to guidelines within schools, teaching unions believe it will lead to further class closures with pupils being sent home from schools.

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT National Official, said the staffing crisis needs to be urgently addressed.

“With over 7,000 cases per day it is inevitable that schools will be understaffed when they reopen for the new term,” he said.

“At the very least the Minister should have followed the example of the Welsh Education system and allocated two days at the beginning of the year for schools to prepare for what will be a very difficult situation.”

Is there anything being done to slow the spread of the virus in schools?

The DE said around 95% of schools have now received Co2 monitors with 5,000 more expected next week.

Meanwhile, despite a call from the Department for retired teachers to step forward to help address the shortage of substitute teachers, it’s understood the uptake has been “very slow”.


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