Sunday, January 16, 2022

Schools can expect “disruptions in the coming weeks” due to Omicron

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Schools can expect disruptions to learning in the coming weeks due to the proliferation of the Omicron variant, Education Secretary Michelle McIlveen said.

In a letter updating parents in Northern Ireland on the impact of the Covid pandemic, the DUP minister said the executive had a common goal of keeping schools “open and safe”.

She also told parents that opening windows was the most effective way to help ventilation in classrooms, adding that she had encouraged schools to be flexible with their uniform policies.

She also said there are emergency arrangements in place for awarding qualifications at teacher appraisals if exams have to be canceled this summer.

Ms McIlveen’s letter said: “We are now in the midst of another phase of the pandemic, with the new Omicron variant leading to significant case numbers in our communities.

“Case numbers among children and staff are likely to continue to reflect those in the community and we can expect some disruption in the coming weeks.

“My focus has been and remains on the continued provision of education in our schools for all of our children.

“I want to assure you that the NI Executive Board remains united in our goal of keeping schools safe and open because the best place for children and youth is school.”

Ms Ilveen said there had been much debate about the importance of ventilation in reducing Covid risks.

She added: “I have been advised by health colleagues that natural ventilation by opening windows is the single most effective measure.

“Installing air filtration units would not allow schools, for example, to close their windows as natural ventilation remains paramount.

“Opening windows regularly at this time of year can result in cooler classrooms.

“Schools will do their best to keep classrooms at an appropriate temperature and I have encouraged them to be flexible in their uniform policy to ensure students are comfortable.”

Their letter went on to say schools may not be able to continue operating as usual for the next few weeks.

She said: “There may be staff shortages due to illness or self-isolation, and there could also be a significant number of pupils absent.

“Schools have plans in place to deal with these issues and that means your child may experience some changes to their normal school day.

“This could include the need to use more substitute teachers, prioritizing classes for those students taking important exams or, in some cases, moving students to distance learning for short periods until the pressure is off.

“I have also asked student teachers to provide additional help in the coming weeks.”

The minister said the intention is for GCSEs and A-levels to take place this summer but that students will have to take “fewer exams”.

She continued: “Should the public health situation change and public exams have to be cancelled, I have agreed emergency arrangements for awarding qualifications based on teachers’ judgement, as in 2021.

“All of our young people will be empowered to graduate and move on to the next phase of education, work or training.”

A further four people who previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have now died, the Department of Health said.

A further 2,954 confirmed cases of the virus were registered in the last 24-hour reporting period.

As of Friday, there were 402 Covid-positive patients in the hospital, 30 of them in intensive care.

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