Weir sets out plans for the reopening of schools

Date published: 18 June 2020

Education Minister Peter Weir has said that new guidance setting out how schools should plan for the new school day will be published tomorrow. 

Covid-19 We all must do it to get through it

Following consultation with school leaders and trade unions, the Minister said that schools will reopen for staff, week commencing 17 August and for key groups of pupils from 24 August.

The Minister said:  “My key objective is for all pupils to return full-time to school as soon as possible, when it is safe to do so.  This is not only essential for our young people’s educational and personal development, but to enable the recovery of our economy and our society.

“If circumstances improve further I will be happy to see this happen without delay.

“Against that backdrop, and after careful consideration of issues raised by school leaders and teaching unions, I have decided that the start of term will now be 24 August 2020 for Primary 7, Year 12 and Year 14 pupils.  These are key years for pupils making the transition from primary to post-primary or for preparation for examinations.

“Vulnerable children in all year groups will also return to school from 24 August.

“Over the summer months, there will be a number of measures which will prioritise the children of key workers and also vulnerable children.” 

The guidance which will be published tomorrow is to help schools prepare for a safe reopening and focuses on a range of measures within schools to enable the new school day to operate as smoothly as possible.  

The Minister, said: “Today, represents a significant step forward in clarifying many of the issues that have been raised as we move towards the reopening of schools.

“This guidance, which I will publish tomorrow, will allow schools to develop their plans for reopening, according to their particular circumstances, and should not be viewed as a definitive step-by-step guide.

“I believe that this will enable many schools to accommodate all pupils each day. For those remaining schools where space is an issue, we will work with them to resolve any problems or at least maximise the number of pupils in school.” 

The Minister said that flexibility will be key to creating space for schools to respond to wider changes in circumstances, including public health and scientific advice that will continue to be key to reopening plans.

Concluding, the Minister thanked all the principals and others from across the education sector who had worked tirelessly with departmental officials to ensure that this guidance was informed by their professional and practical experiences. 

He said: “This has included the establishment of a Practitioner Group, comprising 20 school leaders, who have helped us co-design the guidance to ensure it addresses the needs of all schools.

“I also want to thank the wider education family, including trades unions, employing authorities and sectoral bodies, for the valuable insights they have offered and which we have reflected, where appropriate, throughout this new guidance.”

The guidance will be subject to regular review and revision as measures to manage the Covid-19 response are developed. 

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Department of Education’s Education Restart Programme identifies five priority work-streams to deliver safe reopening of schools.
  2. Priority 5 – New School Day – focuses on the development of guidance to inform “day-one” operations.
  3. A Practitioner Group, facilitated by the Department and informed by two sub-groups, one representing pre-school and primary interests and one for post-primary was established to develop the framework guidance and has been meeting twice-weekly since the beginning of June.  The group comprises of 20 principals (pre-school /primary and post primary with special schools represented on both).  The principals were nominated by managing authorities/sectoral support bodies to ensure they are reflective of all phases and sectors. Further co-design on boarding school guidance took place with all boarding school principals
  4. It will continue to meet until end-June, and beyond if necessary to inform the development of further guidance covering issues such as transport and catering arrangements.
  5. Specific special school guidance is currently being developed in collaboration with a group of Special School principals. It will be issued in due course.
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  7. Media enquiries to the Department of Education Press Office at
  8. 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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