Covid-19: All NI pupils return to school after Easter break

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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image captionPost-primary pupils will also be required to wear face coverings in classrooms unless they have an exemption.

All 350,000 pupils in Northern Ireland return to school on Monday.

For many of those in post-primary years eight to 11, it will be their first time in the classroom in 2021.

Primary and pre-school pupils and those in years 12-14 made a phased return to school in March before the Easter break.

Health Minister Robin Swann and Education Minister Peter Weir welcomed the return, but said safety measures should continue to be followed.

The full return to school follows a decision taken by the Northern Ireland Executive on 1 April.

All school staff and pupils in years 12,13 and 14 are being asked to take twice-weekly lateral flow device (LFD) tests.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has said that is to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted in schools.

Post-primary pupils will also be required to wear face coverings in classrooms unless they have an exemption.

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image captionEducation Minister Peter Weir has encouraged safety measures to continue

Schools have a number of other safety measures in place, including class "bubbles" to limit pupils mixing and ventilating classrooms.

They have also been told by the Department of Education (DE) that breakfast clubs, sports fixtures between schools and other extra-curricular or after-school clubs should not take place yet.

Rita Moore, principal of St Mary's in Limavady told BBC's Good Morning Ulster her staff were "looking forward" to welcoming children back through the gates.

"What I would call on Minister Weir to do, is let us know what the arrangements are going to be for next year," she added.

"We can't leave the end of this term without teachers knowing exactly what they have to prepare their children for in the coming academic year."

Dr Michelle Rainey, principal of Ballyclare High School, said it was important to reassure children.

"We're controlling what we can, bringing them in and creating that safe environment for them," she said.

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image captionThere have also been concerns that some pupils in years 12 -14 will face multiple exams.

Mental health

Some experts have called for pupils to be given time to settle back in after what has been, for many, a long period learning from home.

There have also been concerns that some pupils in years 12 -14 will face multiple exams as schools gather evidence to award them GCSE, AS and A-level grades.

As summer exams have been cancelled for a second year, teachers and schools will calculate the grades to be awarded to their pupils.

On Monday, Mr Weir said it was "important schools do not over test" those pupils in exam years.

He reiterated that tests, which the Northern Ireland exams board CCEA sent to schools for pupils to sit when they returned to school, were not compulsory.

"But the balance needs to be struck to make sure an assessment is being done," he said.

"I know work is being done to try and ease them back in and particularly a focus on trying to make sure their mental health is protected, but there will need to be some level of assessment."

A few grammar schools have also already said they would not use transfer tests in 2021 to select pupils due to the disruption to the education of children currently in Primary Six.

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