‘A Clear Roadmap to Full School Return is Urgently Needed’ says NI Children’s Commissioner
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said she has significant concerns there is no roadmap to guide the journey to a full return of schools.
It comes following a meeting with Minister for Education, Peter Weir this morning, and as the Executive is meeting to discuss the planned return of schools and the NI Exit Plan. The Minister confirmed the arrangements outlined in a letter to Principals yesterday, that the earliest return to full re-opening will be after the Easter break and subject to public health advice.
Koulla said, “I am pleased to hear the Executive will be following the science in NI but it was clear from the discussion there is still work to be completed to set out the conditions, in terms of the transmission rate and case numbers, which would need to be in place at each stage of the journey to enable the full return to school.
“I understand we will be assessing the impact in other jurisdictions but we also need a clear Northern Ireland Plan for the Children of Northern Ireland and I urge the Executive to publish this as part of its ‘Exit Plan’ on Monday.”
The Children’s Commissioner is charged with advising Government on the best interests of children here when it is making decisions that affect their lives.
She continued, “We know the full reopening of schools now would lead to a rise in the R number by between 0.3 and 0.7. Considering the current R number of around 0.75 and where we are currently with the vaccination programme, that would bring the number to above 1.
“We need to clearly see what the modelling is telling us about the impact on these issues when Primary 1 – 3 children return on the 8th March and years 12-14 on 22nd March. We also need to see where the stats need to be to allow further and all years to return safely.
“School leaders need this information so they can continually assess plans and be ready when pupils can return at short notice.
“There has been enough disruption to our children’s lives and their education, when children do return to school they should be doing so until the end of the academic year and beyond.”
Calling on summer programmes and classes to be based on needs of children rather than what the ‘interest of schools’ is, the Commissioner said,
“Schools need to be given the space to use the return to school to asses where every individual child is and put a plan in place to level the playing field in terms of education and well-being – those plans should be in partnership with health, communities and the voluntary and community sectors and must run through the summer in preparation for the new school year.
“To that end I cannot see how schools can be expected to show their ‘interest’ in summer programmes by 5th March when only a small number of pupils are back in primary schools on 8th March – that is not basing policy on need. This is another issue which must be addressed as part of the ‘Exit Plan’ due to be published by the Executive on Monday.”
Notes to Editors