Weir announces changes to schools` reopening arrangements

Date published: 31 December 2020

Education Minister Peter Weir has announced revised plans for schools reopening after the Christmas break.

This follows recent advice on the current situation of the epidemic, levels of transmission and numbers of cases.    

From next Monday (4 January):

  • Primary school pupils will be taught remotely until 11 January, after which they will attend school for face to face teaching.
  • Post-primary pupils will also be taught remotely during the first week of January. From Monday 11 January pupils in years 8 to 11 will continue to be taught remotely until the end of January while pupils in years 12 to 14 will attend school for face-to-face teaching;
  • Childcare settings including those attached to schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries and special schools to be open as usual;
  • Exams due to take place in January will be facilitated compliant with public health guidance and schools will have flexibility to deliver face-to-face teaching to pupils due to sit those exams, should they wish to do so;
  • Schools will accommodate vulnerable children and the children of key workers from the start of term.

The first day of the normal school term can be used to prepare for the rest of the week.

Youth Service provision will be stood down with targeted services moving online until the end of January.

The Minister said: “The Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Education Authority and the Public Health Agency have worked closely throughout the pandemic to maintain the education of children, to reduce the risk of outbreaks and to respond when these occur. This work has continued in recent weeks and the proposed way forward has been informed by the evidence and the advice provided. The common aim has been to keep schools safe, prioritise children’s education and ensure any impact on overall transmission is as low as possible, while accepting that schools reopening as normal is not sustainable.

“While previous arrangements have been informed by the advice of the Department of Health, unfortunately the deteriorating nature of the epidemic and the risks to public health has necessitated more substantial changes.

“Therefore, having considered the advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor and following discussions with them, I have decided that all primary and post-primary pupils will be taught remotely for the first week of term.  Special schools and childcare provision will, however, remain open.  

“All schools must provide supervised learning for vulnerable children and key workers’ children.

“I must stress that these decisions are not made lightly as I know the negative impact on children’s learning and mental health and well-being of not being in school.  However, particularly after unprecedented levels of positive Covid-19 tests since Christmas, and the pressure this applies to our health service, it is critical that we all must consider the public health and scientific advice as we look forward to brighter days ahead.”

Notes to editors: 

1. Definition of key workers:

  • Health and Social Care.  This includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, home carers and staff required to maintain our health and social care sector;
  • Education and childcare.  This includes pre-school and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who will remain active during the Covid-19 response including youth workers;
  • Public safety and national security.  This includes civilians and officers in the police (including key contractors), Fire and Rescue Service, prison service and other national security roles;
  • Transport.  This will include those keeping air, water, road and rail transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response;
  • Utilities, and Communication.  This includes staff needed for oil, gas, electricity and water (including sewage) and primary industry supplies to continue during the Covid-19 response, as well as key staff in telecommunications, post and delivery, banking and waste disposal;
  • Financial Services - This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure);
  • Food and other necessary goods.  This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution and sale, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (e.g. hygiene, medical, etc.);
  • Retail. This includes those workers who have been working throughout the pandemic in food retail, for example, and will now extend to those working in other retail businesses permitted to operate by the Executive  from June 2020;
  • Other workers essential to delivering key public services such as the National Crime Agency; and
  • Key national and local government including those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response.

2. Definition of Vulnerable Children and Young People

The definition of Vulnerable Children as set out in the cross-departmental Vulnerable Children and Young People's Plan 2020 is: ( )

  • A child who has an assigned social worker because he or she is a child in need, in need of protection (or on the child protection register) or is a looked after child.
  • A child in need includes young carers, children with disabilities, and children living in families where there is domestic abuse, substance abuse, and / or mental health difficulties.
  • A child who is receiving support from, or has been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • A child who has a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN), a child who is accessing EOTAS, or a child who normally accesses Education Nurture Units.
  • A child who is ‘on-the-edge’ of receiving support from children’s social services.
  • A child who is in need, including in need of protection, but whose need is not known to statutory services.
  • A child who is not known to statutory or voluntary and community support services but who is vulnerable because their family is under increased pressure due to Covid-19 related circumstances.
  • A young person who was previously a looked after child, whether or not they are receiving support from statutory services.
  • A child who has been placed for adoption.
  • Asylum seeing; refugee children and children whose parents have no recourse to public funds.

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4. Enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at

5. The Executive Information Service operates an out-of-hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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