Return to school advice ‘vague, ambiguous and contradictory’

A Derry primary school principal has branded the Department of Education’s return to school guidelines as “vague, ambiguous and contradictory”.
Schools across NI re-opened to pupils this week for first time since March.Schools across NI re-opened to pupils this week for first time since March.
Schools across NI re-opened to pupils this week for first time since March.

Nick Tomlinson, of Cumber Claudy PS, spoke out as schools across NI re-opened to pupils for the first time since mid-March. 

Mr Tomlinson said his school and others were “doing their very best” to ensure their kids were as safe as possible in what was a very different environment.

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“The preparations for a safe reopening required creative thinking, teamwork, and a positive approach towards change,” he said. “All the Cumber Claudy Staff pulled together to ensure that the children came in feeling safe and secure. The parents, carers and families were 100% supportive of the changes and adaptations. Our number one priority at this time is pupil well-being.”

Cumber Claudy PS principal Nick Tomlinson.Cumber Claudy PS principal Nick Tomlinson.
Cumber Claudy PS principal Nick Tomlinson.

However, Mr Tomlinson had some harsh words for education chiefs.

“This has all been achieved in the context of vague, ambiguous and often contradictory advice from the Department of Education. A document of around 70 pages, lacking in any clarity, was sent to us less than a fortnight before the P7 classes were due to return to school. Many of the principles outlined at the beginning of the document with regard to safe practices were contradicted in the detail of the document.”

The Cumber Claudy head explained that his school now has each class operating as a ‘social bubble’ which does not have contact with other classes. 

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The school, he said, had also risk-assessed a whole range of situations and activities to ascertain whether or not they can be carried out safely.

“However, some of the risks are outside the school gate,” he said. “We were told to work in social bubbles yet children were allowed to travel on buses with children from other schools. Clearly, it would have been sensible to put on extra buses to ensure that children wouldn’t have to share an enclosed space with children from other schools, or to put bus guides on the buses to ensure that children stayed within class and sibling groups. However, it  seems that, when the politicians at Stormont say they follow the science, what they really mean is they follow the budget.”

Mr Tomlinson says that, in the weeks and months ahead, he hopes school leaders and their staff will get clear directives and guidance from the education authorities.