This guidance seeks to support schools, pre-schools, youth services and other settings to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID. It also aims to promote consistency of approach across Northern Ireland, whilst ensuring appropriate local flexibility for education settings and staff. The term “school” is used throughout for brevity. It should be considered alongside additional operational guidance provided by the Education Authority (EA).
The guidance has been developed by the Department of Education (DE) in co-operation with school leaders. Ongoing engagement with educational practitioners and Trade Unions has also taken place over the course of the pandemic and will continue going forward.
The guidance has been informed by public health advice available at the time of writing. It should be read and applied in conjunction with the latest public health guidance available on the nidirect website.
Where this guidance states that Managing Authorities and schools:
- “may” or “may wish” to do something - the relevant sections have been included as examples of relevant practice that can be considered if appropriate. Local variations and adaptations are likely.
- “should”, “must” or “strongly recommended” - it is expected that schools will implement these changes.
Nothing in this guidance affects the legal obligations of education settings with regard to health and safety and public health. Education settings must continue to adhere to all such duties when implementing this guidance. In the event of any conflict between any applicable legislation (including health and safety legislation) and this guidance, the applicable legislation must prevail.
Key COVID Symptoms
Schools should ensure they are familiar with the latest information on measures to limit the spread of COVID including the main identified symptoms and steps to be taken when an individual or individuals in a school are identified as being confirmed cases of COVID 19.
Use of the Guidance
The guidance within this document is divided into three broad headings:
- Reduction of Virus Transmission
- Identification and Response to Positive Cases
There is also a section specific to special schools.
This guidance provides an overarching framework for schools and education settings in Northern Ireland, with the aim of ensuring broad consistency and equity across local areas.
School leaders can access further individual support on any aspect of this guidance through their Cross-Organisational Link Officer (COLO). The COLO will continue to be the lead contact so that similar queries from schools can continue to be collated and escalated when required.
In accordance with relevant legislation and guidance, Trade Unions have been consulted on and involved in the development of COVID risk assessment templates for use across schools. These have been updated by the EA throughout the pandemic.
Risk assessments of individual settings must be undertaken to ensure that health and safety legislation and guidance is fully adhered to. These should be kept simple and accessible. It is a legal requirement that employers must consult with the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or, if there isn’t one, a representative chosen by staff. As an employer, you cannot decide who the representative will be. To support this, the EA has developed good practice risk assessments which have been shared across education settings via existing communication channels.
Risk Assessments must be reviewed regularly and updated every time there is a significant change in circumstance, including where changes to the DE guidance apply. Risk Assessments for schools that are not COVID-specific can be found on the EA website using these links