Covid-19: NI school leaders welcome return to classroom learning

Covid-19: NI school leaders welcome return to classroom learning

“Children learn better when they’re in school and when they’re face-to-face.”

That is the belief of the principal of Tullygally Primary in Craigavon, County Armagh, Kirsty Andrews.

She is happy that more of her pupils will be back in school on Monday 8 March but she still has many questions and knows that her staff and the parents of her pupils do too.

The vast majority of pupils in Northern Ireland have been learning remotely since Christmas.

Children in primary 1 to primary 3 (aged four to seven) will be among the first year groups to return to school.

They will then resume remote learning on 22 March to enable the return of older pupils, until the start of the Easter holidays.

Students doing qualifications like GCSEs, AS, A-levels (in years 12 to 14) and other vocational qualifications like BTEC will return to face-to-face teaching from 22 March.

But pupils in years 4 to 7 in primary and years 8 to 11 in post-primary will not be back in school until after the Easter break at the earliest.

Like many schools, Tullygally Primary has remained open throughout lockdown for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Ms Andrews told BBC News NI that she welcomed the plan for more pupils to come back.

“My staff have worked very hard with online learning but I think that children learn better when they’re in school and when they’re face-to-face,” she said.

“While I welcome the idea that it’s going to be face-to-face teaching and we’re going to get away from online learning, what do we do whenever parents ask us: ‘How come it’s safe for my child to go into P3 but it’s not safe for my child to go into P5?’

“And what extra precautions have they put in place?

“I’m going to have to feed this back to my staff and my staff will be asking these questions.”

She would also like teachers to be given priority for vaccinations as more pupils go back to class, but said schools also need a plan they can stick to.

“We do need to have a clear path out of this – we don’t want to open, shut, open, shut, open, shut because that’s not good for anybody,” she said.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said that “the phased return to schools from the executive has posed as many questions as answers”.

But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said it was “very sensible and logical” to open schools on a phased basis.

ASCL’s regional officer in Northern Ireland, Robert Wilson, said that allowing the youngest pupils to return first was a sensible first step.

“For those in secondary education who would have faced important examinations this summer, the planned return to the classroom on 22 March is very important, although the timing just a week before the start of the Easter holiday is debatable,” he said.

“Our exam-age pupils in particular have suffered a difficult and distressing year of disruption and lost learning.

“What is crucial is that pupils return in a way which is safe and sustainable, and which inspires the confidence of education staff and the public.

“Nobody wants to see schools having to close their doors again having collectively worked so hard to reopen them.”

Mr Wilson also called on the executive to give teachers priority for Covid-19 vaccination.

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