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Schools to stay closed and ‘promote remote learning’ until February half-term break

Education Minister Peter Weir has said pre-school education settings, primary and post primary schools will be required to provide remote learning to pupils until the half term break in mid-February.

Originally, they had been due to open yesterday (Monday) but this was put back a week until January 11, before this evening’s changes were announced.

Special schools will remain open as usual.

The Executive will be keeping the position under review.

Vulnerable children and children of key workers will have access to schools for supervised learning. Only one parent/guardian is required to be a key worker.

Other key points include:

– Direct payments will be made to families whose children are entitled to free school meals;
– Childcare settings to remain open;
– Childminders are allowed to continue their provision.

The Minister said: “Any disruption to schooling for a significant period of time will have a devastating impact on children’s educational opportunities and future prospects, as well as being damaging to their mental health and well-being.

“No matter how well managed or provided, removal of face to face learning and its replacement with remote learning impacts on children’s educational experience, with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups and vulnerable children.

“It should, therefore, be only contemplated as a last resort in extreme public health circumstances such as we are currently facing, and should be maintained for a period no longer than is necessary.”

Turning to public examinations, Peter Weir said his priority has always been to ensure that, if at all possible, exams should go ahead as planned.

“My overriding aim is ensure that our students are not disadvantaged in terms of their qualifications compared with other jurisdictions. Work is ongoing on this issue as a matter of urgency and I intend to provide further clarity in the next couple of days.

“Until and unless any announcement is made, students should expect to continue to sit scheduled examinations.”

Vulnerable children and children of key worker to have access to schools for supervised learning. Vulnerable children include amongst others all children with statements of Special Educational Needs. Children of key workers would require at least one parent to be a key worker. These are the same provisions as were put in place during the first lockdown, which resulted in a very small uptake in places.

Key workers are defined as follows:

– Health and Social Care.  This includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, home carers and staff required to maintain our health and social care sector;
– Education and childcare.  This includes pre-school and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who will remain active during the Covid-19 response including youth workers;
– Public safety and national security.  This includes civilians and officers in the police (including key contractors), Fire and Rescue Service, prison service and other national security roles;
– Transport.  This will include those keeping air, water, road and rail transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response;
Utilities, and Communication.  This includes staff needed for oil, gas, electricity and water (including sewage) and primary industry supplies to continue during the Covid-19 response, as well as key staff in telecommunications, post and delivery, banking and waste disposal;
– Financial Services – This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure);
– Food and other necessary goods.  This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution and sale, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (e.g. hygiene, medical, etc.);
– Retail. This includes those workers who have been working throughout the pandemic in food retail, for example, and will now extend to those working in other retail businesses permitted to operate by the Executive  from June 2020;
– Other workers essential to delivering key public services such as the National Crime Agency; and
– Key national and local government including those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response.

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