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Editor's Viewpoint

Schools need a plan for a return to class

Editor's Viewpoint


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Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir

Education Minister Peter Weir remains bullish that schools in Northern Ireland will reopen in four weeks time, but his confidence is not shared universally.

However he is realistic enough to admit that funding is the key to ensuring that pupils will return to the 1,000 schools full-time. And, as yet, the required money is not available.

His Department doesn't have it and he is to bring a paper to the Executive 'very soon' to set out what he needs.

Quite why this is only happening now, merely weeks before the planned reopening is a puzzle. Surely it was apparent that large sums of money would be needed and the coffers at the Department had nothing to spare?

Even if the Executive does find extra money Mr Weir says a range of safety measures will still be required in the schools.

That is disturbing because safety is probably the major concern of parents sending children back to the classroom. Indeed one headmaster said an outbreak of Covid-19 in a school could cause panic.

Coming into autumn and winter when children, like everyone else, are prone to all sorts of coughs and sniffles how will teachers be expected to know if this is just the usual winter maladies or is coronavirus? Will there be a comprehensive track, trace and treat system in place to safeguard both pupils and teachers?

It is little wonder that teacher unions and parents look with envy at the funding made available across the border in the Republic ahead of the reopening of schools before the end of August.

A £342m package has been announced to fund 1,000 post primary teaching posts, build new schools, alter existing buildings and classrooms and fund 120 counselling posts to help pupils cope with the strains of the pandemic. Obviously the new build programme will take a considerable time but it shows the determination of the government there to ensure that the return to school will be as normal as possible.

Unions and parents on this side of the border want Mr Weir to produce a comprehensive plan on how he hopes to manage the return of pupils. Everyone recognises that children need to get back to the classroom, having already lost a valuable slice of their education experience but it must be carried out in a safe and structured manner. The children and their parents deserve no less and time is desperately short to deliver a viable way forward.

Belfast Telegraph