ASCL comment on phased reopening of schools in Northern Ireland

18/02/2021
Robert Wilson, Regional Officer at ASCL Northern Ireland, comments on the proposed phased reopening of schools in Northern Ireland from Monday 8 March.
 
Commenting on the proposed phased reopening of schools in Northern Ireland from Monday 8 March, Robert Wilson, Regional Officer at ASCL Northern Ireland, said:

“We obviously want to see schools open across Northern Ireland and it appears both very sensible and logical to do this on a phased basis to protect against the risk of a spike in infection rates. We must ensure we do not return to a revolving door of schools opening and then having to close again.

“Allowing the very youngest pupils to return to the school environment that is so important to their development is a sensible first step on 8 March. These pupils have limited access to remote teaching and also need the structure and social interaction that the school setting provides.

“For those in secondary education who would have faced important examinations this summer, the planned return to the classroom on 22 March is very important, although the timing just a week before the start of the Easter holiday is debatable. Our exam-age pupils in particular have suffered a difficult and distressing year of disruption and lost learning. The period leading up to assessment by their teachers is now extremely important for them to be able to demonstrate they fully deserve the grades that will be awarded.

“What is crucial is that pupils return in a way which is safe and sustainable, and which inspires the confidence of education staff and the public. What will be needed is strong communication to both parents and the wider community that the partial reopening of schools is not a signal of the end of the lockdown and that restrictions on social mixing remain in place. Nobody wants to see schools having to close their doors again having collectively worked so hard to reopen them.

“The plans for the next phases of reopening should be kept under continuous review and should only go ahead if the science fully supports them to ensure education staff, the pupils and their parents have full confidence that it is safe to return.

“We continue to believe that education staff, particularly those in secondary schools, need the confidence and reassurance that being prioritised for vaccination would give and urge the Executive to set out a clear timetable for this to happen as soon as possible.”