The Minister of Education says her priority remains to keep children and young people in school


Education Secretary Michelle McAlvin

Education Minister Michelle McIlvin said her priority remains to keep schools open in Northern Ireland amid an increase in Omicron option cases.

He said the instructions given to schools have not changed regarding Covid because health officials have not changed their position.

He added that schools that are understaffed will have the opportunity to move to distance learning and offer a partial programme.

Many schools will return from Christmas holidays on Tuesday, but this is likely to be a late start as other schools have decided to resume classes this weekend.

School administrators are looking for more guidance before the new deadline as the number of Omicron cases continues to grow.

Stormont ministers were told Omicron now accounts for about 90% of Covid-19 cases here when they met last Thursday.

Asked why she left her administration to school administrators after returning “in the hope of the best”, Ms McElwain told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster on Tuesday: “I don’t think we ever were. Keeping our children and young people in school remains to be seen. Our top priority and priority.

“We have worked closely with the Ministry of Health and the Public Health Agency with workers in schools and trade unions during the Covid pandemic.

“You will appreciate that there has been no change in the instructions regarding Covid, as this is very much in line with the recommendation of the Ministry of Health.

Currently we have not received anything different.

As an important easing measure ahead of the new period, the Education Department urged schools to require all staff and primary school students to take a lateral flow test 24 hours before returning to school.

Ms McIlvin added that a detailed note on distance learning for schools was issued on 6 December, while primary schools in particular have the opportunity to offer part-time curricula and supervised lessons.

“There are many scenarios where schools can use distance learning, especially when they have a small number of staff and are unable to provide adequate coverage,” he added.

“It’s on our website and schools got it on time.”

It was also revealed that in the past six weeks there had been no meetings between agency officials and a practitioner group of school and labor union leaders.

“In my opinion, my officials are in regular contact with a group of practitioners and unions. This work has been going on since the beginning of the pandemic,” the minister said.

“It is unacceptable if this is the case and I will follow up today. I understand that the evidence is that we have maintained direct contact with the schools.”

Although a lot of work has been done on ventilation in recent months, Ms McKelvin acknowledged that there are ventilation problems, despite the Covid virus, that need to be addressed and require a “fairly large capital investment”.

It also forces officials to provide air purifiers and works closely with other jurisdictions to test their effectiveness.

Nearly 11,500 Co2 screens have been delivered, with another 5,000 being delivered this week.

Ms McIlvin said that with the mainland Department of Education, officials will now provide 7,000 high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPAs), but there is currently no date for their arrival.

On Monday, the Education Authority (EA) called on parents to take “alternative relocation measures” as workforce disruptions due to Covid-19 could affect its services at any time.

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Source: Belfastlive


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