Section 4: Operations

School Transport

Cleaning

Schools should continue to follow the operational guidance provided in the Cleaning FAQs section on the EA website.

Catering

School Uniform

School uniform policy remains a matter for school Principals, subject to any directions that might be given by the Board of Governors. The Department of Education’s guidance circular 2011/04, revised June 2018, remains current however, the Department encourages schools to be flexible in enforcing school uniform policies where families are under pressure.

Curriculum Delivery

Guidance in relation to curriculum planning for primary schools in 2021/22 is available at Curriculum Planning Primary Schools and for post primary schools at Curriculum Planning Post Primary Schools.  This is includes guidance in relation to PE in the curriculum. Schools will note that both indoor and outdoor PE are permitted without COVID-19 related restrictions on the numbers of participants. Whilst it is permissible to use changing rooms, they continue to be considered a higher risk environment and schools should aim to minimise their use wherever possible.  It is strongly recommended, therefore, that schools allow children to come to school in their PE uniform or for younger children to simply wear trainers on relevant days to minimise the need for changing wherever possible.

Examinations and Assessments

The Department’s curriculum planning guidance for post-primary schools referenced in the Curriculum Delivery section above contains advice and guidance around the teaching of qualifications in 2021/22.  Further details in regard to qualifications can be accessed on the CCEA website CCEA Summer 2022 Awarding and from relevant Awarding Organisations.

Recording Pupil Attendance

Vulnerable Pupils

The Department has produced a Contingency Framework for Vulnerable Children and Young People for use when schools/education settings are directly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Department's publication, Putting Care into Education will be useful in supporting our more vulnerable children & young people and understanding the impact of trauma, in particular on those who are currently or have previously been looked after.

Further information is also provided on the EA’s website. This includes the relevant pupil wellbeing information for school staff including the wellbeing hub.

Children and Young People who are classed as “clinically extremely vulnerable” or “vulnerable” in health terms should take extra precautions when attending school and there is additional guidance for those groups.

Special Schools 

Remote Learning 

As in normal circumstances, if pupils are ill they should take time to rest and recover and should not be working from home. 

If an individual child or a small number of pupils within a class or across a year group have to self-isolate for a designated period due to COVID-19, the Department has advised that parents should talk directly to their school about provision of education materials.  Schools will wish to support pupils as much as possible, however, clearly in these circumstances teachers will be continuing to teach all classes during the school day so expectations must be realistic.

Schools should continue to contingency plan for the delivery of remote learning in the event of local or wider school closures, or that a large group of pupils within the class need to self-isolate. In the current public health context, schools will wish to have detailed plans in place although new rules on self-isolation of close contacts should make this possibility more unlikely.  Further detail can be accessed on the DoH website.

The Department’s Circular 2021/01 Guidance on Remote Learning provides advice and guidance to schools on supporting remote learning.  It outlines a range of key principles which should underpin schools’ remote learning programmes. The Department has also simplified its remote learning guidance into a one-page, quick glance document for schools entitled Effective Practice in Remote Learning.

It is increasingly evident that the most effective models of learning have a well-balanced combination of both synchronous and asynchronous sessions. The Department would also particularly emphasise the importance of creating opportunities for paired or small group work for older children. The introduction of virtual break-out rooms is a key tool enabling collaborative small-group work.

Schools should only employ remote learning in circumstances where a class or group of pupils are required to self-isolate because of COVID-19, or in the event the school has to close due to COVID-19.  It should not be used to facilitate any other circumstances, for example, study for internal exams.

The Department recognises the significant pressures that schools have faced during the current pandemic.  It is, however, extremely important that face-to-face teaching for pupils is maximised following two periods of remote learning.  There is also a legal minimum requirement in regard to school days of operation. 

A very small number of children may be advised by their clinical team not to attend school.  Where a child has been medically advised by a consultant not to attend school during 2021/22, schools should consult with parents and, as required, the Education Authority regarding education provision for these pupils.

Wraparound Care

The Education Minister wrote to school principals on 14 April to confirm that all school wraparound care was able to resume with immediate effect. Schools are encouraged to ensure that wraparound services are made available to pupils and parents wherever possible. There is further information on social distancing for wraparound care in the social distancing section.

Extra-Curricular Activities

All indoor and outdoor extra-curricular activities are permitted to resume in schools based upon the continuing application of the mitigations measures already employed by schools. Schools wishing to offer an extra-curricular activity that involves music or singing are able to do so and should consult the EA’s Music Unlocked guidance for the any relevant mitigating measures.

Schools are encouraged to resume extra-curricular activities for pupils. The maximum number of pupils able to avail of an extra-curricular activity should be based upon a risk assessment of the venue for the activity. Depending on the activity, in order to support contact tracing, schools should seek to ensure that pupils are kept in consistent groups for activities or smaller groups where this is not possible. If it possible for the activity to take place outdoors, schools should seek to do so wherever possible.

Music and Singing

Information on the music and singing in schools can be found in the EA’s Music Unlocked guidance. 

Educational Visits

Both day and residential visits by schools are able to take place. The Executive decision on 13 May 2021 permitted the resumption of day educational visits by schools from 24 May 2021. This was extended to allow overnight residential visits by schools from 5 July 2021. Educational visits outside of Northern Ireland can resume from 18 October 2021 to countries both within and outside the Common Travel Area. Schools should consult the relevant travel advice from the Executive before booking and travelling to ensure that all relevant requirements for travel are adhered to, including any requirements put in place by authorities in the destination country. Schools are advised to seek advice from their travel provider and/or insurers to ensure that there is adequate financial protection in place for the trip. The Department will not be able to underwrite the costs of any trips, including, but not limited to, additional costs resulting from the impact of COVID-19.

Schools should consult the EA guidance for educational visits This includes mitigating measures and details on the appropriate risk assessments that are required for educational visits. Schools should undertake full and thorough risk assessments in relation to all educational visits.

Information on overnight residential visits by youth settings can be found on the EA's Youth Online website.

Pre-School Education Settings

Separate guidance documents for pre-school education settings are no longer required and the previous guidance published on 5 March 2021 has been stood down.

In order to support contact tracing, pre-school children should be encouraged to stay within a consistent group of children wherever possible. Those within such groups will not be expected to socially distance, however distancing within classes should be maximised wherever possible, based on physical capacity and the activities that pupils are engaged in.

Pre-school settings, in helping pre-school pupils to settle in to face to face learning, may find the Guidance on Induction and Transition helpful. 

For settings that operate both morning and afternoon sessions (dual day provision), additional consideration may need to be given to drop off/pick up arrangements, and time required for cleaning and setting up classroom resources between cohorts. Settings are best placed to make decisions based on their specific circumstances, but they may wish to consider options to adjust the format of the pre-school day, including adjusting hours of attendance, or temporarily reducing provision where previously a session longer than the required minimum has been offered. The pattern of attendance should aim to maximise the attendance of pupils, take into consideration the pattern implemented in local schools and settings, and aim to avoid congestion at drop off and pick up times.DE funded targeted Early Years interventions (Sure Start, Pathway Fund and the Toybox project) should also continue to apply the mitigations set by the Northern Ireland Executive to enable restart of services from 24 May 2021.

Childcare Provision

Childcare providers registered through Health and Social Care trusts should follow the relevant guidance provided on the Family Support NI website.

Youth Services

The EA's Youth Page - Youth Online contains further guidance relevant to Youth Services including risk templates and FAQs.

Workforce

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