Closure guidance to schools has caused confusion – O’Neill

By David Young, PA

Stormont’s Deputy First Minister has expressed concern that guidance to Northern Ireland schools about arrangements for the children of key workers has caused confusion.

Michelle O’Neill’s remarks came after Education Minister Peter Weir wrote to schools informing them that they all should remain open to cater for children, up to Year 10, of people employed in vital public services.

Teachers and principals have also called for clarity. Many anticipated that a skeleton network of schools would be required to stay open to accommodate the limited numbers of pupils involved, not every school in the region.

Ms O’Neill said: “I think there has been confusion overnight in terms of the guidance that has been given out by the Education Minister that needs to be clarified this morning.

“Can schools be part of a solution for helping key workers get to work to provide the frontline public services, then yes, but let’s work that out, let’s not confuse the picture anymore.”

The Sinn Fein vice president told BBC Radio Ulster that she intended to raise the issue with Mr Weir directly.

“I believe that the letter and the guidance that has been put out last night has led to more confusion,” she said.

“I have spoken to many teachers and principals overnight who are left concerned this morning about things not being clear.

“What I need to be very crystal clear on is schools are closed – schools operating as we know them are closed. Can they be part of a solution to provide support to those people on the front line, then let’s work our way through that today and the next couple of days and give people the clarity that they deserve.”

Mr Weir said keeping all schools open was the best way to spread out numbers across the sites.

“All schools should be catering for the key workers,” the DUP minister told Radio Ulster.

Peter Weir said opening all schools for the children of key workers would help spread the numbers across sites (NI Assembly/PA)

Mr Weir acknowledged that further guidance to schools would be required, and said he intended to issue more information on Friday.

The minister said there would likely be a need to adjust the plan as the situation progresses.

“As things evolve is it likely that the configuration may well change? Yes, it could do,” he said.

First Minister Arlene Foster, also speaking to Radio Ulster, insisted the powersharing Executive is “united” in its approach.

“This is so much bigger than Britishness or Irishness, unionism or nationalism, orange or green – this is not what this is about,” she said.

“This is about giving hope to people that this will end, making sure that when it does end that we come out the other side, and it is important to have hope.”