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Northern Ireland school pupils should be allowed to wear extra layers in ventilated classrooms, Minister says

By David Young

Schools should consider allowing pupils to wear extra layers in the classroom due to the extra ventilation required during the coronavirus pandemic, the Education Minister has said.

Peter Weir said concerned parents had been getting in touch with his department to ask why school windows were being kept open as temperatures outside were dropping.

Mr Weir said school leaders would need to adopt a “common sense” approach in ensuring there was sufficient ventilation.

The minister was responding to an Assembly question from Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, who has asked whether funding would be provided to help schools ventilate classrooms without having to open windows during the winter.

Mr Weir replied: “I think schools are also going to have to apply this from a sensible point of view because I know I’ve also had some parents who have contacted us saying, ‘the windows open, why are the windows open?’. It’s actually to have ventilation.

“I think that does mean that schools will need to also have a level of adaptation. For example, even just in terms of what way they will look at school uniforms and whether, you know, there’s extra layers of clothing, there’s additional bits.

“I think there’s got to be common sense solutions in connection with that.”

Mr Weir said there was no restriction on what extra Covid-19 support funding already provided to schools could be used for.

“The money that was being made available to schools would meet a range of issues and it’s not by its nature hypothecated to say, you know, you need to spend this on a particular way, so there’s a level of freedom given to schools that will be there,” he said.

“There is obviously a concern that if you’ve got high levels of ventilation that there’ll be some knock-on effect in terms of additional colds or whatever but, as with a lot of things with meeting the challenges of Covid, there’s rarely a solution which then produces something so virtuous that doesn’t create some level of complications with it as well.”

During Assembly question time, Mr Weir also indicated that the executive would again provide payments to families eligible for free school meals during the Christmas holiday period.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs asked whether the executive would secure any consequential funding from the £170 million allocated to address “holiday hunger” in England.

Mr Weir said the level of funding required would be higher than any proportionate devolution allocation as there was greater need in Northern Ireland.

The minister said the executive was likely to allocate the funding required to cover the costs at Christmas.

“I think that the executive, given what’s happened in the past, will step up to the mark and provide that level of support,” he said.

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