Safety And Wellbeing Of Children And Young People Top Priority - McIlveen

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has said that the safety and wellbeing of children and young people is her top priority.

Responding to an Assembly motion on 'Keeping schools open and safe' the Minister highlighted the extensive range of measures which have been put in place to help support schools.

Comprehensive guidance on the management of COVID-19 has been provided to schools.

She said: "This guidance covers measures to reduce transmission in schools including: use of face-coverings in post-primary schools; a twice weekly asymptomatic testing programme; maximising natural ventilation; retaining pupils in consistent groups wherever possible and promotion of good hand and respiratory hygiene. Young people aged 12 and over and all staff have also been able to access the vaccination programme.

"This range of mitigations act collectively to reduce risk as much as possible."

The Minister said schools have been provided with detailed guidance on managing ventilation, and the EA has been working to resolve issues raised by schools through the deployment of CO2 monitors and remedial works.
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She continued: "In relation to air filters, I must stress, the scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of air cleaners is inconclusive.

"At a conservative estimate, it would cost around £40million to install them across 20,000 classrooms. If the evidence supports such investment, I will have no hesitation in bidding for such funds. I will not move ahead of the evidence and recklessly spend public money.

"As an interim measure, I am investing over £2million this year on ventilation works including £1million to replace windows and £1million for CO2 monitors."

The Minister outlined steps she had taken to address staffing pressures including an appeal to recently retired teachers to return to the classroom and relaxing rules for the 550 final year student teachers scheduled to undertake school placements in the coming months. This will release qualified teachers from supervising those placements and allow them to be used elsewhere within their schools.

She concluded: "Given the intense staffing pressures at present and the additional workload associated with Performance Review and Staff Development for teacher appraisal, I have agreed that this process will be paused for the current academic year."

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