The EIS has responded to the First Minister’s statement on a planned phased return for schools, welcoming the planned roll-out of regular testing for staff and students but warning that virus levels must fall ‘substantially’ before the plans for a phased return for pupils can be confirmed.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, "Clearly, any school return remains contingent upon continued progress on community suppression of the virus and that is not a given so we need to see infection levels coming down substantially before the return date can be confirmed."

Mr Flanagan continued, "Whilst a phased return is a more cautious approach, we are surprised that the First Minister did not discuss the need for physical distancing amongst P1-P3 pupils, given that she clearly stated the new variant impacts on all age groups, whereas previously younger children seemed to be less directly involved in transmission than adults."

"The EIS believes that a blended learning model, i.e. implementing physical distancing, would be a safer strategy to deploy and we would need to see strong scientific evidence to justify the Government’s approach. Frankly, in the absence of such evidence this model creates unnecessary risk for staff and pupils."

On the planned rollout of testing for school staff and some secondary pupils, Mr Flanagan added, "The availability of regular testing for staff is something the EIS has called for, so that is welcome, as is its extension to senior phase pupils which will offer some reassurance to their families."

"The EIS also notes the limited number of senior pupils able to return at any one time, but this must be organised in a way which explicitly enables physical distancing amongst pupils."