Union calls for staggered return to school for pupils in new year

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A teaching union has called for the return of pupils to school in January to be "staggered".

It is among a range of measures suggested by NASUWT in a letter to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen.

But the union has not detailed exactly how the new term should be staggered or which year groups should return first.

Some principals recently told Stormont's education committee that closing schools "must be avoided at all costs".

They said being out of school had a detrimental impact on children and young people's mental health, wellbeing and education.

Two wide-ranging reports from the Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) in August said that being out of school had a negative impact on children from lower-income backgrounds especially.

The Department of Education (DE) has previously said there were no plans to close schools early or to move to remote learning before Christmas.

But some schools have had to have had to send individual year groups home for remote learning on specific days in recent weeks due to staff absences and difficulty getting substitute teacher cover.

The return to school was staggered after the lockdown from January to March 2021, with the youngest primary school pupils returning to classrooms first before Easter.

In a letter to Ms McIlveen, the NASUWT's general secretary, Dr Patrick Roach called for a similar measure at the start of January 2022, but gives no further detail as to how this should be done.

Dr Roach said the executive should "act immediately and to not delay critical decisions until the commencement of the school and college holiday period."

"An immediate announcement from the executive on additional measures for schools is, we believe, essential before the majority of schools close for the Christmas break," he wrote.

As well as a staggered start to the new term, he said the minister should consider "onsite testing facilities" at schools in January and February.

He also called for the department to tell schools "to cancel or postpone non-essential activities or events, to move to online staff and parental meetings, and to mandate staff working from home where appropriate, during this period."

Calling the measures "proportionate and responsible," Dr Roach said they would minimise further disruption to education.

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