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Coronavirus: All pupils to return to school full-time

All pupils will return to school full-time in Northern Ireland from the beginning of term, the Education Minister Peter Weir has announced.

He said the NI Executive had made the decision a "strategic prioritisation" at its meeting on Thursday.

The move means previous social distancing measures between pupils will be "relaxed".

However, schools will still be required to keep most pupils in whole-class "bubbles" to limit mixing.
Schools in Northern Ireland were closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive passed a proposal from the minister at their meeting on Thursday. It includes a return to school for those who attend special schools.

Pupils going into years seven, 12 and 14 are to return to school on 24 August with all other pupils returning from 31 August.

In a letter to principals, Mr Weir said that previous advice requiring social distancing of 1m (just over 3ft) in classes would change.

"Strict social distancing requirements between all pupils will be relaxed from a specific distance to the best spacing that can be achieved but will remain in place between adults and, as far as it is practicable, between adults and pupils," he said.

"Schools should continue to implement as much social distancing as is practical and where physical capacity and curriculum delivery permit.

"On the return to school, the overriding provision will be a full class return with all appropriate and practical protections put in place."

However, whole-class "bubbles" will be required for most pupils to limit mixing.

"I recognise that the approach will vary depending on age group," the minister said.

"In pre-schools, primary and special schools, it is envisaged that in most cases a relatively straightforward approach can be adopted.

"A class will act as a single consistent group or bubble, with minimal prolonged interaction with other classes within the school."

However, arrangements for post-primary pupils in years 11-14 will differ as pupils will need to move between classrooms depending on what subjects they are studying.

"For Years 11-14, it is recognised that a single consistent class group will not be possible, as pupils will be in mixed classes based on their choice of examination courses, but schools are encouraged to keep movements and interactions within these year groups to an absolute minimum," Mr Weir said.

What about transport?

There will also be no requirement for pupils to follow guidance for social distancing on school transport.

"While parents and children should be encouraged to use other means of travelling to school for example, walking or cycling where it is safe and reasonable to do so, we recognise that for many children the home to school transport network may be the only available option," Mr Weir said.

"There will therefore be no requirement for children to follow public transport guidance for social distancing between pupils on dedicated home to school transport vehicles."

"However, where it is possible to socially distance, pupils should do so."

Mr Weir also said that school meals would be provided from 31 August.

Read Complete Editorial Here: BBC

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