First day back to school for many NI pupils

School has resumed for many pupils across Northern Ireland for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began in March.

Monday was the first day back for thousands of pupils in P7 and years 12 and 14.

The full school population is set to return next Monday, although some schools have been open for the children of key workers throughout the pandemic.

The UK’s chief medical officers have warned that children are more at risk of long-term harm if they do not attend school than if they return to the classroom despite coronavirus.

In a joint statement issued ahead of the reopening of schools, the advisers said children have an "exceptionally low risk of dying" from Covid-19.

However some parents have expressed concerns, while teachers' unions say educators had not been given enough time to respond to rules issued earlier this month.

Three schools did not reopen following the detection of Covid-19 cases.

Ballyclare Secondary School is set to reopen on Tuesday following a deep clean and 72-hour incubation period.

St Kevin's Primary School and St Louise's College in west Belfast have also delayed their reopening following positive cases among the school community.

In its daily update on Monday, the Health Department confirmed there have been a further 10 positive tests for coronavirus in Northern Ireland.

The education minister says schools “are not unsafe places for children and they are not unsafe places for teachers either”.

Peter Weir said: "Very, very few, if any, children will come to harm as a result of attending school, but there is evidence of the long-term harm to children's education, life opportunities, mental health and wellbeing from not attending school.

"There is clear unequivocal evidence that children are less likely to catch Covid-19, where they do most of them will have mild to moderate symptoms and in most cases they will make a very full recovery.

"There is a very, very low - indeed an incredibly low incidence - of serious disease within children and they are also less likely to transmit the virus."

The minister said £42m has been allocated to support the safe reopening of schools.

A package of measures for the first term covers the cost of substitute teachers, personal protective equipment, school well-being, transport and special educational needs.

Mr Weir said: "I fully recognise the stresses felt by teachers, parents and pupils due to the ongoing disruption and uncertainty regarding the future.

"My key priority has always been to ensure all of our children and young people return to school on a full-time basis, as soon as it is safe to do so."