Schools have been issued with guidance on clustering to ensure there are sustainable arrangements and sufficient places for vulnerable children and the children of key workers during the Covid-19 crisis.
The guidance, which has been developed by the Department of Education and its education partners, is intended for those schools which wish to work together in a cluster and are not currently doing so.
An example of a cluster could include schools in a geographical location, an Area Learning Community or a Shared Education partnership coming together to agree suitable available premises for supervising children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Education Minister Peter Weir said: “I am aware that many schools have been open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers but are concerned about the sustainability of the arrangements they have put in place. We would not wish to deter those of you who are content with your current arrangements to change your approach.
“Many schools have arrangements in place that are working well and are already working individually or collaboratively with neighbouring schools and educational settings to provide this essential service at this difficult time. We would not wish to deter those of you who are content with your current arrangements to change your approach.
"However, we need to prepare for the coming weeks, when the pressure on key workers is most likely to increase. We need to prepare for the possibility that staff may themselves become sick or be required to self–isolate.
“That is why it is vital that we are ready to provide as many places as required against this uncertain backdrop. This may include providing places for children at weekends, Easter and other holiday periods. Pooling our resources is one potential way for dealing with this scenario.”
The Department will require schools to register their intentions in relation to clustering and it will continue to monitor the position on the ground in terms of staff available and the number of children and pupils attending on a daily basis.
Continuing, the Minister said: “I want to emphasise that this approach is not about creating large hub schools or settings with large numbers of children or staff. Rather the intention is to ensure there are sustainable arrangements in place across the education estate to provide a sufficient number of places for those key workers who have no alternative options for the supervision of their children.
“The cluster school should be a facility which is used by those parents who have no alternative arrangements for the supervision of their children and are working in essential roles in the fight against Covid-19. I would emphasise that all schools and pre-school settings should be open to make provision for supervised learning for vulnerable children and for key workers’ children up to the end of Year 10. Only one parent needs to be a key worker.”