Arlene Foster: Education at schools at an end due to coronavirus

By Michael McHugh, PA

Educational work at Northern Ireland’s schools has come to an end due to Covid-19, Arlene Foster said.

They are being “repurposed” to provide online planning and resource packs, Stormont’s First Minister said.

Ministers are asking schools to remain open for staff next week to allow them to prepare for remote learning, ensure provision for vulnerable children and key workers’ youngsters up to the end of Year 10.

A list of key workers whose children will need to be provided for while they are working includes healthcare, nursery and teaching staff, members of the police, fire and prison services and those keeping public transport and the electric network operating.

Children whose parents work in food distribution are also a priority, according to a document published on the education department’s website.

Mrs Foster said schools were being repurposed and “unfortunately the educational work that goes on has come to an end”.

She added: “They will provide online planning and resource packs.”

Teachers, principals and parents have called for clarity around school closures from Monday.

Education Minister Peter Weir has said the schools are only being opened to key workers who cannot find alternative childcare arrangements.

He added: “I recognise that some schools will be ready on Monday and some need further time to prepare.

“I would ask you all to consider only sending your child to school if there are no other viable arrangements; schools should be open to vulnerable children or those who have a parent/carer who is a key worker in relation to dealing with the Covid-19 response.”

Both parents/carers do not have to be key workers.

The education minister added: “By Monday, we will have a reasonable indication of the take-up of this scheme by key workers.

“We will monitor and assess this situation in the days and weeks ahead and the number of schools which will need to remain open in the future will be revised in the light of this information.

“There will naturally be a period of transition and we will undoubtedly face a range of challenges, both expected and unforeseen. Together we will work through these difficulties by mustering the patience and compassion that such extraordinary times require.”

GCSE and A-level exams will not go ahead as planned this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead, teachers will use measures such as past performance to come to a fair assessment of ability, Mr Weir said.

Teachers will continue to be working throughout this period and remote learning will be provided, the minister added.