Coronavirus: Date of 17 August set for some NI pupils to return

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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Education Minister Peter Weir, stock pictureImage source, Pacemaker
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Mr Weir said the intention would be that in the third week of August for three key cohorts of primary seven, years 12 and 14 would return.

The Education Minister has set a target date of Monday 17 August for some pupils to return to school.

Peter Weir said those going into primary seven and about to sit GCSEs and A-Levels should be back then.

Mr Weir gave the date during an online meeting hosted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

He had previously said some pupils would return to school in late August but had not given a specific date.

Mr Weir took a number of questions during the online meeting with hundreds of teachers, where he was asked about his plans for schools re-opening.

Image source, PA Media
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Mr Weir said that due to limited pupil numbers likely to be in school on 17 August, not all staff would have to be in.

"On the 17th August there will be particular cohorts there.

"Whatever provisions are put in place to prepare for that will be done," Mr Weir said.

"The intention would be that in the third week of August for three key cohorts of primary seven, years 12 and 14 - which are essentially the GCSE and A-Level years - that we would see a restart to teaching then," the minister said.

Other pupils are expected to return on a phased basis in September, spending some time in school and some learning remotely.

The minister said that he would be guided by public health advice before proceeding with the plan.

School Holidays

He was later asked how the 17 August date would affect school holidays.

"I think the aim would be to have every school open at that stage in the same way as the same position in other jurisdictions as well," he said.

"I'm not quite sure at the moment where anybody's going to be going on holiday on 17th August."

He also said that due to the limited pupil numbers expected to be in school on 17 August, not all staff would have to be in.

In England some primary pupils have already returned to school but many will not go back until September.

In Wales, the government plans to open schools from 29 June to 27 July, but that has proved controversial.

In Scotland, schools are due to reopen using a mixture of in-school and remote learning on 11 August.

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Dr Graham Gault has called on the minister to provide "clear guidance"

However, Dr Graham Gault, the vice-president of the NAHT in Northern Ireland, said that more clarity was needed about the minister's plan.

"We have no clarification on what the contractual arrangements are going to be for the staff, none whatsoever," Dr Gault said.

"And the minister would be very well advised to talk fully with the trade union bodies as soon as possible to have that all ironed out.

"That can't be left for a principal to be making those decisions on behalf of staff and it also can't be left to be voluntary.

"Clear guidance needs to come from the minister as soon as possible."

Detailed plans on how schools should re-open to all pupils on a phased basis are expected to be provided by the Department of Education (DE) by the end of June.

A spokesperson for the department said it "appreciates the legitimate concerns that our teachers, parents and pupils have around the reopening of schools".

"Despite all the good work done, it is clear that the longer that children are out of school full time, the more it prejudices their long term educational prospects. Therefore the aim remains a return to full time classroom education as soon as medical guidance allows this," they added.

The latest DE figures show that 1,953 pupils - children of key workers and vulnerable children - attended 495 schools on Monday 8 June.

Other pupils are being taught by teachers using remote learning.