'No plans' to close Northern Ireland schools early for Christmas – Belfast Telegraph


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Education Minister Michelle McIlveen
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There are “no plans to close schools early this term or to move to remote learning”, the Department of Education has said.
A circular sent by the department and seen by the BBC has been sent to all headteachers and education bodies and said it was "extremely important that we maximise face-to-face teaching for pupils".
It's after education minister Michelle McIlveen earlier on Monday said she understood the concerns of some teaching unions but told the Assembly classroom-based teaching was the best option in schools. Teachers' union NASUWT last week called for schools to close early as a circuit breaker.
The circular provides guidance to schools on when they can use remote learning, such as when a class has been advised to self-isolate due to Covid-19 or when there are not enough teachers or support staff for a school to operate.
However, there are other circumstances in which schools should not move to remote learning, including to facilitate Christmas holidays.
"Schools should not use remote learning to facilitate study leave prior to school exams commencing; provide additional staff development time or in response to anxieties about school attendance due to Christmas holiday arrangements," the circular said.
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If schools do move to remote learning due to staff shortages, they are "strongly encouraged" to continue to allow vulnerable children and those with Special Educational Needs to come to school.
Schools are also asked to consider allowing children whose parents are both working to continue to attend school while post-primary schools are asked to prioritise face-to-face teaching for years 11-14 who are taking GCSEs, AS and A-Level qualifications.
"All schools are encouraged to actively plan for the eventuality that they may need to provide remote learning in circumstances of staff shortages," the circular said.
Not all pupils would have access to resources to learn from home, the circular advised – "particularly printing facilities, internet connection and data and devices such as tablets and laptops".
Earlier, Ms McIlveen acknowledged the high level of Covid infection in the community and in schools has made teaching "very challenging" but said early closure "harm" to many pupils if they were to miss class.
As a society while we're conscious of watching out for the health service, we need to be mindful that we watch out for our schools," she said.

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