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Immediate and Ongoing Support Required from Department of Education to Enable Full Re-Opening of Schools, says Children’s Commissioner

24 Aug 2020

Today, as schools across Northern Ireland welcome back some students, and reflecting on the latest guidance provided to schools by the Department of Education, Koulla Yiasouma Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said,

“This is both an exciting and worrying time for pupils, parents and staff. It is vital for all children to return to education to protect their mental health, wellbeing and their futures.

“The priority must be to return as many children as possible to full time education, there must be common sense and flexibility. Further support and guidance from the Department is also required to allow schools to continue to re-open fully and safely to ALL students, especially those who have additional healthcare needs.”

The Commissioner advised the Department of Education on changes required to the ‘New School Day’ guidance at the start of August.

Koulla continued, “Whilst I was pleased to see the Department include some of my advice (link below) in this most recent guidance issued on 13th August, it is still far from complete. In particular, I note gaps in relation to provision for children with special educational needs in mainstream and special school settings. I have been updating my advice to the Department on this basis.

“Schools have been planning for a phased return for quite a while now, however the decision to return full time for all students has come very close to the new school year, at a time when post primary schools were dealing with the exam results situation. It has also come at a time when we are seeing a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.” 

Welcoming last week’s announcement from the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, Koulla said, “I welcome that the re-opening of schools is a top priority for the Executive and echo the call for an ongoing “careful, thoughtful and planned way forward” in the coming weeks and months. 

“The situation must be continuously reviewed and clear monitoring in place to ensure that all appropriate steps have been taken by schools to minimise the risk of transmission.  Children, young people, and their parents must be given a voice and any concerns about schools continuing to be opened, listened to.

“We must also be clear about the threshold for when a school may need to close, for example if there is a spike in cases in the local area or when an outbreak within a school cannot be contained. Alongside this we need robust contingency plans to allow the effective education of these children to continue remotely.”

The Commissioner concluded, “We must all put our children’s education first, we must continue or even, in some cases, re-start our efforts to help contain the virus, so that there is no further escalation which would prevent our children and young people from fully realising their right to an effective education.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

 

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