Letter from Minister for Education to schools on cluster arrangements

Date published: 31 March 2020

Dear Colleague

At this time of unprecedented worldwide crisis, schools, pre-school settings and schools’ staff have been asked to provide a safe and welcoming “supervised learning” environment for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, to enable them to continue to fulfil their important roles in fighting the COVID-19 virus.

These are challenging times for us all and I wish to provide schools and pre-school settings with as much support as I can to help them deliver this much needed service.

I would emphasise that all schools and pre-school settings should be open to accommodate these children (where PHA guidance can be complied with) and where one or both parents/carers is a key worker.

I am aware that many schools have been open but are concerned about the sustainability of the arrangements they have put in place in the ever changing environment we all operate in.

I know that many schools have arrangements in place that are working well, however we also need to prepare for the coming weeks when the pressure on key workers is most likely to increase.

There is also the possibility that staff who are currently providing this vital service in schools may themselves be sick or be required to self–isolate due to a family member being ill.

We need to ensure we are ready to provide as many places as required against this uncertain backdrop, this may include providing places for children at weekends, Easter and other holiday periods.

I have therefore asked my officials and those of our education partners to provide a policy and guidance to facilitate schools that wish to move to local clustering arrangements. Departmental guidance will be at a strategic level and the Education Authority will lead on operational guidance and implementation support.

Therefore, later today I will issue guidance to schools on developing C-19 Cluster arrangements. This guidance will be accessible on the DE internet and a link will be emailed to you upon its release.

I trust that the support arrangements for those wishing to create a C-19 Cluster, which are described in the guidance and include provision of a dedicated Link Officer managed through the Education Authority, a registration system for parents and C-19 Cluster schools as well as a dedicated helpline (028 3836 8186), will provide assurance for those schools seeking to enter into this type of arrangement.

For the purpose of C-19 Cluster schools, the term ‘schools’ refers to nursery schools, non-statutory pre-school education settings participating in the Pre-School Education Programme, primary schools, post-primary and special schools.

I would like to take this opportunity to convey my continuing appreciation for the enormous effort you and your staff continue to demonstrate at this very difficult time.

Peter Weir MLA
Minister of Education

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