Pupils should return to schools in a part-time, phased manner when they reopen, says a group representing British and Irish teaching unions.
It has written to Education Minister Peter Weir urging “significant caution” before schools open again.
Schools in Northern Ireland have been closed to all but a few pupils since late March due to the Covid-19 crisis.
First Minister Arlene Foster had previously said that was likely to last until the summer.
Schools in the Republic of Ireland, though, will remain closed until September at the earliest.
The British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) has written to Mr Weir setting out what conditions its members believe need to be met in Northern Ireland before schools reopen.
The group includes representatives from four of the five teaching unions in Northern Ireland – the UTU, INTO, NASUWT and NEU.
A premature reopening of schools risked causing a spike in the transmission of coronavirus, they wrote.
“We are convinced by the experience of other systems that a critical tool in preventing a surge of infection is an established capacity to ‘test trace and isolate; and we would argue that reopening schools before such a regime is in place would be catastrophic to the rate of infection,” they said.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Schools could only reopen and operate safely, added the letter, if there were significant operational changes in place to ensure:
- Effective social distancing
- Strong hygiene routines linked to thorough cleansing practices
- Appropriate PPE available where required
- Ongoing risk assessments to monitor operations
“This will mean that as schools cannot reopen as normal, a phased return will be required and priorities established around attendance, which is likely to be part-time for most pupils,” said the letter.
The group said that children from disadvantaged backgrounds and vulnerable children would need additional support.
They also called for the sharing of all available data informing decision-making on reopening schools.
Both Mr Weir and the permanent secretary at the Department of Education, Derek Baker, previously told assembly members on Stormont’s education committee that pupils were likely to have a mixture of school learning and remote learning even when schools did open again.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe