As children return and prepare to return to school, Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People said,
“The evidence is clear, closing schools can have a devastating effect on many children and young people.
“Good outcomes for children and young people across the board will only be achieved with urgent and dynamic decision making and resource allocation directly to schools.
“This is the same message we have been communicating for weeks now along with school leaders. However we are yet to see action matching the urgency of our messages.
“It is apparent that many of our school leaders feel there is insufficient support for them to keep schools open in a sustainable way. I have also spoken to young people who are deeply concerned about the impact that further closures will have.
“Schools cannot stay open if there are unsafe staffing levels or if there is an increased risk of COVID infection. All necessary measures must be taken to address both challenges.
“I have reviewed the calls from school leaders and Trade Unions and believe they are reasonable. I therefore repeat my call that the Department of Education and NI Executive make speedy decisions on the allocation of necessary resources to ensure that schools have adequate air filtration systems, lateral flow testing for pupils and that there are creative decisions with regards to the deployment of suitably qualified staff to educate our children.
“Whilst it is too early to talk about cancelling external exams, now is the time to give consideration to further mitigations for this group of young people who have experienced pressures and disruption to their education.
“My ‘New and Better Normal’ report assessed the impact of government’s response to the pandemic on the lives of children and young people across Northern Ireland. In too many areas Education was found wanting. We must learn the lessons and minimise disruption to education by all means necessary.
“I welcome the priority placed by the NI Executive on keeping schools open. Should further restrictions be considered, I strongly recommend the rights of children and young people are front and foremost at the decision making table.”