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Protective bubbles and how NI schools will look come September

New guidance setting out how schools should plan for the new school day come September has been released today (Friday).

The guidance is part of an overall Restart Programme and has been co-designed by the Department of Education, school leaders and key partners.

It has been supported through consultation with managing authorities, trade unions and sectoral support bodies.

Welcoming the publication of the guidance, Education Minister Peter Weir said: “My ambition has always been, and remains, for the full-time resumption of classroom-based learning for all pupils as soon as it is safely possible to do so. I fully appreciate the stresses felt by all our teachers, parents and pupils during this time of disruption and uncertainty regarding the future.

“Although our overall approach to managing the Covid-19 virus must rightly remain cautious, today is a positive step forward in providing a road map to plan for the reopening of schools in two months’ time.”

Following confirmation by the Executive that schools will reopen for staff from August 17 and for priority groups of pupils from August 24, the Minister said: “This guidance in many ways reinforces practices we have all become accustomed to.

“It promotes regular hygiene practices on arrival at schools and throughout the school day and the application of the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ principles.

“It builds on the Executive’s agreement of June 18, that the current social distancing guidance of two metres must continue to be followed between all adults and older year groups within the education sector, but that looking to a start-date of August 24, a distance of one metre is an appropriate planning assumption between children and young people.”

Outlining the model of the use of ‘protective bubbles’m the Minister continued: “In circumstances where social distancing cannot reasonably be applied, the use of ‘protective bubbles’ as an additional mitigating measure must be followed. This has been applied successfully by other countries in their arrangements for reopening of schools.

“The guidance also promotes a flexible approach to use of existing spaces as a means of maximising face-to-face teaching opportunities and provides the framework within which workforce planning can now be developed.”

The Minister concluded: “Today is an important starting point in the journey to reopening schools and reflects our current circumstances. We will continue to be guided by medical and scientific developments between now and 24 August.”

The New School Day Guidance can be viewed in full here.

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