Commenting on the phased reopening of schools and plans for older pupils to receive lateral flow tests in Northern Ireland from Monday 22 March, Robert Wilson, Regional Officer at ASCL Northern Ireland, said:
“Getting children back to where they belong, learning alongside their friends in schools, is what we all want to see after a year of disruption and lost learning but doing so in a safe way, to protect against the risk of a spike in infection rates, is important. Teachers do not want to see a return to a revolving door of schools opening and then having to close again. Consequently, the cautious approach adopted to bringing back pupils to the classroom across Northern Ireland is welcomed.
“The announcement that all pupils in Years 12 to 14 will face lateral flow tests on their return to the classroom has come as a total surprise to school leaders and comes on the back of a pilot scheme, the success of which they know very little about. Schools have not been consulted about testing and communication on this matter from the Education Minister has been woefully poor and extremely short on detail. Teachers have been given precious little time to make arrangements for a major logistical operation they had not been previously warned about and have no experience of organising.
“Unlike schools in England, which were given weeks to prepare for testing, their counterparts in Northern Ireland now have days to learn how to become medical professionals and act as an authority to their pupils on how to use lateral flow tests. The only chink of light is that the letter sent to heads by the Education Minister refers to a ‘familiarisation period’ and they desperately now need urgent clarification of what that means in practice.
“Testing may ultimately help our pupils to safely return to the classroom but we are concerned that rushing it may create more problems than it solves.”