Coronavirus: Peter Weir says exam grade plans are almost completed

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image captionSummer exams have been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak

Work to finalise plans for exam grades is "virtually at the point of completion", the education minister has said.

Peter Weir said that he hoped to have the detail at the end of the week.

Exams to be held in May and June were cancelled as the result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Weir has previously said that existing data will be used to award GCSE and A-level results this summer.

"If we are looking at those exams, they have to be compatible across the UK," he told BBC News NI's Good Morning Ulster.

Mr Weir was speaking after he had issued an appeal to retired teachers and classroom assistants to help keep schools open amid the coronavirus crisis.

He had previously said some schools would need to remain open over the Easter break to accommodate children of key workers and the vulnerable.

Mr Weir has now written to retired teachers and classroom assistants asking them to volunteer.

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image captionEducation Minister Peter Weir has urged retired teachers and classroom assistants to volunteer

In his letter, Mr Weir said retired staff would work alongside existing staff to help them supervise children.

"I am widening the call for volunteers to include all members of schools’ boards of governors, retired teachers and retired classroom assistants," he said.

"I am asking for your help in a bid to assist our dedicated teaching staff and non-teaching staff in schools who are carrying out this vital role.

"We need you to provide essential support and assistance."

The minister told Good Morning Ulster that the appeal was to "cover all eventualities".

"It is to provide a pool of volunteers so that we can cope in all situations," he said.

Virus reassurance

"At the moment there are nearly 400 schools that are open over Easter they are providing that service outside of normal term time and I think to provide both the safety and ensuring the provision of those services, staff are rotating.

"This is to have a level of reserve pool so that if we reach a spike in numbers of teachers that are off in any particular area that there are people who can ultimately be called upon then to provide that service."

In the letter, Mr Weir said both teachers and non-teaching staff had already been working hard, but more people were needed.

He reassured those who were thinking of volunteering that Public Health Agency (PHA) guidance in relation to social distancing would be adhered to at all times.

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image captionSome 250 key workers say they have been unable to get a school place for their children

The retired staff and governors have to be under 70, in good health and without possible symptoms of coronavirus, such as a fever or high temperature.

They can register through the Department of Education's website.

Mr Weir had previously asked for volunteers from the wider education workforce to work in schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to principals and teachers on Friday 3 April, Mr Weir said a significant number of key workers had been unable to get a school place for their children.

He said department data indicated "that there are in excess of 250 children requiring, but unable to secure, places in schools or pre-school settings while their parents provide the critical frontline services we all need".

However, BBC News NI understands that those figures are disputed by some of the teaching unions.

Figures from the department showed that 748 children attended school on Friday 3 April.

However, 1259 children are expected to need a school place at some point over the Easter holidays.

A total of 267 schools told the department they were prepared to open at Easter and 124 said they could open at weekends.

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