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Executive orders schools to stay closed until March 5 at earliest as part of Covid fight

This applies to all educational settings, pre-school, nurseries, primary and post primary schools

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Northern Ireland’s schools are to remain closed for another five weeks – going into the second week in March.

First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed the move to a media briefing this evening.

It will mean pupils will continue to be taught remotely until that time.

Classes – at this stage – are now scheduled to resume on Friday, March 5.

First Minister Foster said efforts to drive detection rates down was continuing to work and the R rate had fallen considerably.

She thanked all those who were making difficult decisions daily to protect themselves, the community and healthcare workers.

She said hospitals are continuing to face incredible pressures and the number of patients in ICU had doubled over past month reaaching its highest levels ever.

To that end, First Minister Foster said schools will not be able to fully re-open before Friday, March 5.

This applies to all educational settings, pre-school, nurseries, primary and post primary schools.

Supervised learning will continue for vulnerable children and children of frontline workers.

Special schools and childcare settings and childminders will remain open.

First Minister Foster said she was aware people would be disappointed and accepted that the “kitchen table is no substitute for the classroom”.

But she said it was essential that these efforts continue in the ongoing fight to drive down infection rates and while the vaccination programme continues to be rolled out.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Peter Weir confirmed that, in relation to school transport and free school meals, the processes in place will continue.

He confirmed: “Where children can use alternative means of travelling to school they should do so and the wearing of face coverings for post-primary pupils on school transport will continue to be mandatory.

“For children entitled to free school meals, payments in lieu of free school meals will continue to apply to any child entitled to free school meals who is learning remotely and cannot attend school as a result of the restrictions.”

And Minister Weir added: “I have consistently stated that, no matter how good the quality of remote learning being provided, the removal of face-to-face learning will have a negative impact on children’s educational experience, with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups and vulnerable children. Any interruption to normal schooling is only done with the greatest level of reluctance.

“My priority is to return to full-time face-to-face teaching for all as soon as possible. The aim would be to start face-to-face teaching in early March, but all actions on resumption will be dependent on the wider public health situation.”

An announcement on alternative awarding arrangements for key examination years is expected shortly.

Continuing, the Minister said: “It is important that those year groups engaged in learning for key qualifications must be prioritised in any consideration of plans for schools returning.

“They must have the maximum opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills and understanding required for progression to the next stage of education, employment or training.

“Given the disruption to our children’s education, educational recovery is critical to their future.

“I will be seeking resources to enable investment in catch up to allow children to make up for the loss of face-to-face teaching over these two academic years, and welcome the agreement in principle by the Executive to this.

“Core loss to the foundations of education, if missed now, could have a longer detrimental impact on children.”

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