Education Minister Peter Weir has announced tonight that pre-school education settings, primary and post primary schools will be required to provide remote learning to pupils until the half term break in mid-February. Special schools are to remain open as usual.

Home Schooling is back again following this evenings announcement from Education Minister, Peter Weir. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Home Schooling is back again following this evenings announcement from Education Minister, Peter Weir. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Vulnerable children and children of key workers will have access to schools for supervised learning. Only one parent/guardian is required to be a key worker.

Additional key points

  • Direct payments will be made to families whose children are entitled to free school meals;
  • Childcare settings to remain open;
  • Childminders are allowed to continue their provision.

The Minister said: “Any disruption to schooling for a significant period of time will have a devastating impact on children’s educational opportunities and future prospects, as well as being damaging to their mental health and well-being.

“No matter how well managed or provided, removal of face to face learning and its replacement with remote learning impacts on children’s educational experience, with a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups and vulnerable children. 

“It should, therefore, be only contemplated as a last resort in extreme public health circumstances such as we are currently facing, and should be maintained for a period no longer than is necessary.”

Turning to public examinations, Peter Weir said his priority has always been to ensure that, if at all possible, exams should go ahead as planned.

“My overriding aim is ensure that our students are not disadvantaged in terms of their qualifications compared with other jurisdictions.  Work is ongoing on this issue as a matter of urgency and I intend to provide further clarity in the next couple of days. Until and unless any announcement is made, students should expect to continue to sit scheduled examinations.”

The Executive will be keeping the position under review.

No Learner will be disadvantaged

Economy Minister Diane Dodds speaking on on upcoming vocational qualification exams and assessments said  “Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4 January which set out new national lockdown measures in England, including implications for forthcoming exams and assessments, I know that many learners in Northern Ireland are understandably concerned about what will happen in relation to the upcoming January exams and assessments for a range of vocational qualifications, particularly in relation to BTecs.  

“The safety and interests of our learners remains of the utmost importance. It is also of significant importance to facilitate learning and progression as much as we can during these challenging circumstances. In doing so, we must recognise the unprecedented challenges faced by learners over recent months, including lost learning time and disruption, in addition to social isolation and family pressures.

“In conjunction with my Ministerial colleagues in England and Wales, we have therefore agreed that further flexibilities will be put in place for the January exams and assessments, particularly in relation to BTecs. Learning centres, including further education colleges, schools and training providers, will be afforded additional discretion to determine whether it is appropriate for learners to sit the scheduled BTec exams in January, taking into consideration a range of factors including health and safety and the personal circumstances of their learners.

“I wish to provide an assurance that no learner will be disadvantaged if they are not in a position to sit the January exams and they will be able to take the exams at a later date, or if that is not possible, alternative arrangements will be put in place by their learning centre / awarding organisation.

“As we collectively continue to grapple with the increasing severity of the pandemic, my priority remains to ensure that vocational learners are afforded the opportunity to receive fair and equitable results over the coming months to facilitate progression pathways, whether that be to study further or employment, and we will do everything possible to support them.

“I recognise that many young people and other learners in schools and further education colleges are currently preparing for general qualifications such as GCSEs and A levels, which fall under the responsibility of the Department of Education.  I would reassure you that I will continue to work with the Education Minister on these crucial areas to ensure that those undertaking qualifications in Northern Ireland are not disadvantaged.

“Further details will be provided very shortly by relevant awarding organisations and CCEA Regulation and I would encourage learners to contact their learning centres for further information in the first instance.

“I would like to take this opportunity to pay huge tribute to teachers, tutors, learners and their families for their considerable efforts and dedication during these exceptionally challenging times.”

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