Schools will no longer be required to use formal bubbles following an agreement by the Executive today.
Face coverings will continue to be used in post-primary settings for six weeks after schools starts, and this will remain under review. There will be some exceptions for subjects where social distancing is possible.
Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen said: I welcome the decisions by the Executive today which allow us to take further steps towards normality for our pupils when schools return at the end of the month.
“The removal of the requirement for schools to use formal bubbles should provide schools with more flexibility allowing pupils to move around into different classrooms and facilities. However, in order to support effective contact tracing, schools will be asked to ensure pupils remain in consistent groups, where possible.
“In relation to face-coverings, given the current high incidence of infections here, I am content that they will continue to be used in post primary settings for six weeks, with a view to removing the requirement as soon as it is advisable.
“For subjects where social distancing is possible, such as drama in a large hall, face coverings may no longer required.”
The Minister also welcomed changes to self-isolation rules. Young people aged 5 to 17 who are not fully vaccinated and are identified as a close contact should self-isolate and book a PCR test. If the PCR test result is negative they can end their self-isolation.
Michelle McIlveen said: “I understand the turnaround time for a PCR test can be as low as 24 hours, and this will minimise disruption to pupils. This is an important and effective tool in helping us manage the spread of infection.
“As always, our actions are guided by the public health position and we rely on the advice of our Health colleagues in ensuring the safety of all pupils and school staff when we return.”
There will also be a full return to extra-curricular and support activities as well as youth services.
Guidance is being finalised and will be provided to schools early next week
Concluding Michelle McIlveen said: “Updated guidance will be available in the coming days to assist schools in preparing for the new term. My officials are continuing to liaise with education stakeholders to ensure that this guidance is clear and effective.
“Schools should continue to consider their own local circumstances and what measures they can put in place to minimise transmission of the virus using their own experiences of the last year. All staff in education settings and pupils in post-primary and special schools should continue regular testing.
“I look forward to the new school year with the hope that this is the beginning of a sustainable return to the classroom.”