Education Unions still seeking clear guidance from the Education Minister

25 Nov 2020

Unions representing teachers and support staff in schools are still seeking clear guidance from the Education Minister, despite his answers to questions from MLAs in the NI Assembly yesterday.

Speaking on behalf of the NIC-ICTU Education Group (10 unions representing support staff, teachers and principals), its chair Maxine Murphy-Higgins said:  

“I thought it was interesting that Peter Weir is insisting that the exams will go ahead. However, during yesterday’s session with MLAs, Mr Weir warned that, if exams were abandoned in 2021, pupils would be put under ‘effectively a seven-month microscope, where every assignment, every action that they take would be a highly pressurised situation.’

“If this is the case then surely Mr Weir and the Department of Education should be issuing guidance to schools as to what they should have in place in the event of the exams not taking place.  It appears that schools have not been given any clarity on what will be expected from them and yet they are being criticised for -over testing’!

The education unions would like clear answers to these questions:

What will happen if a P7/AQE candidate is isolating over two (or three) exams?

What consideration at GCSE and GCE will be given to pupils who have lost considerable curriculum time due to isolation?

What consideration will be given to pupils who are isolating during the November GCSE exam series and also the March GCSE exam series?

How will schools hosting the AQE exams ensure that children are ‘bubbled’?

“There is still too much institutional vagueness with the information available for people working in school settings. For example, the Public Health Agency produce a regular bulletin with a dedicated section on schools, and yet this is frustratingly short on information which would better inform real life-and-death decisions.

“At the moment, our questions are these:

1/ How many days have been lost by students or staff self-isolating?

2/ Are there clearer breakdowns of ‘incidents’ as measured by the PHA? Infections and/or isolations?

3/ What is the detailed breakdown of infections among students as opposed to  staff?

4/ Which adults are infected? Teachers, CAs, other support staff?

5/ How is the Sub-register performing for teachers?

6/ Who is subbing for Classroom Assistants?

7/ Why is there a difference in advice given to identification of close contacts? 

8/ Why are transport not being included in close contact tracing?

Ms Murphy-Higgins concluded: “Schools need to be safe environment for students and those who deliver education services. All of them.”