Education Minister Peter Weir speaks to parents


When schools closed due to Covid-19 for the majority of children in March, some parents were suddenly presented with the challenge of setting up a home office and working from home, some were furloughed and some were out on the frontline. Parents were left to juggle their worries about coronavirus, adapt to new working conditions and take on the role of teacher.  

Parentkind has been working tirelessly over this period with an array of educational stakeholders – schools, local government, policy-makers, funders and the media to ensure that all platforms understand the concerns of parents and young people, and the challenges they face.  

We would like to thank parents for taking the time to provide us with their feedback, especially through our surveys, and you can read here how, in Northern Ireland, we have fed your voice directly through to the policy-makers and how much of what you asked has translated into these recommendations.  

We would also like to give thanks to the many experts that have helped us help parents along the way participating in Ask the Expert sessions, providing blogs and much more.

The Education Minister Peter Weir, very kindly agreed to join a video call to engage directly with six mothers/foster parents who shared some of the worries parents from across NI have about the re-opening of schools in September, and to answer their questions.

Parentkind are very grateful to the Minister for his ongoing engagement with parents and for including the recommendation of working with parents in all the guidance published over the last few weeks.  

You can watch the video here


Here's a summary of the questions asked and when you'll find them in the video:

Special Education Needs 
  • 1.40min: Will the most vulnerable and those who have been shielding from March be asked to attend school in, September? 
  • 2.50min: This question is from a parent who is concerned that when her SEN child returns to school, they may be overwhelmed by the experience which could present a challenge to staff to manage and see a dramatic use of restrictive interventions.  Would the Minister consider proposing critical training for teaching staff to support and help children adjust as opposed to a zero tolerance approach to ensure trauma supportive care?
  • 4.28min: Parents worried about sending a SEN child back to school before there is a vaccine and are asking would it be possible for that child’s Classroom Assistant to visit the child in their home and support their learning?
  • 5.38min: Summer schemes for children with SEN is challenging in normal times, with the promise of more summer schemes this year, will include such for our children with SEN, particularly in the Lisburn council area?
  • 6.50min: Can a pre-school child who is awaiting an ASD assessment, only just 4 years and didn’t settle well in playschool this year, can they repeat if parents wish for such?
Post Primary
  • 9.15min: In the event of predicted grades in year 2021, could there be a 1-2 week period allocated for all schools to hold mocks in? Currently schools hold theirs between Dec and March which has potentially disadvantaged many young people this year if their mocks were held in December.
  • 11.27min: My son has chosen A level subjects which all have a practical element. How will you ensure that compulsory practical and laboratory work can be carried out in a safe manner for staff and student and will continue to be provided as an essential part of the curriculum?
  • Selecting A Levels was scheduled to happen the week after lockdown and obviously was cancelled.  Friends of our daughter in other local schools were the same. Could Friday 28th not be allocated to Y13s to return to schools to meet and discuss with teachers their A Level choices following receiving their GCSE grades?
  • 12.24min: If a post-16 student is timetabled to a teacher who is clinically vulnerable and must work from home, will students have the opportunity to be taught online with interactive classes as opposed to self-directed learning via notes? Will this take place within the school building or will this take place in the home environment? How will DE ensure all students have access to technology for this?
  • Why is Y8 not deemed a priority group to return to school early?  
School transport:
  • 14.34min: Coming from Fermanagh I am most looking forward to hearing the answers on these and wish I had thought to ask them. 
  • Will measures be put in place to allow for social distancing on school buses?
  • 15.24min: Will extra buses be put on?
  • 16.10min: Will it be 1 or 2m social distancing rules on post primary buses given a mix of Y8-14 students will be travelling on them as well as other adults occasionally?
  • 18.19min: Can I be reimbursed by EA if I decide to drive my child to and from school?
  • 19.40min: Taxis for special needs pupils – what guidelines will be given to taxi firms around cleaning and screens to minimise risk of transmission of virus through seat coverings etc?
  • 22.10min: Parent/Teacher meetings now only happen once a year, in light of lockdown we would assume that schools will undertake a rigorous assessment process when children return to determine the amount of missed learning and where children are socially and emotionally.  Could schools return to offering 2 p/t meetings this new academic year to give parents feedback on these assessments and discuss a joined-up approach on how together they could meet the needs of the child.  
  • 22.45min: What role can parents play in the shaping plans for September and what is the responsibility of schools to engage with parents around this?  
  • 22.45min: Given that most schools are saying they cannot accommodate a return to full time schooling, how are working parents supposed to properly support part time home learning and work full time?  Does the Minister recognise the potential impact on the economy and harm that this could cause to parents’ (in particular women) ability to work?
  • 24.26min: Is there any recourse or legislative protections if my employer mandates "business as usual", and I am unable to do so due to the part time schooling and / or fixed time drop off and pick up?
  • 25.42min: Even though I welcome the guidance on the safe re-opening of schools, I ask, when will we see the guidance for what will happen if school are not fit to re-open in September or have to close again in Oct/Nov due to wave 2 hitting?  
  • 26.57min: Totally welcome the guidance on the safe re-opening of school, but is there alternative guidance available if schools are not fit to re-open in September or if they have to close again if wave 2 hits?
School Day
  • 28.44min: Is a whole class considered a bubble, and if so (based on the Danish Model) why do the children need to remain 1m apart within a class – if whole classes were bubbles then this would allow schools to return to full time schooling?
  • If Wraparound care is provided, will the same bubbles as in classes be kept together for this?
  • Will PE continue to form part of the curriculum?  If so how will this happen if schools are encouraged to use every available space to accommodate social distancing and it is wet outdoors?
  • Will there be a f/t cleaner in every toilet block cleaning toilets and basins after each use?
  • 29.55min: Regarding the bubbles – how will children be selected for each bubble?  Ability groups? Friend groups?  What will happen if a parent disagrees to the bubble group their child is placed in?
  • 31.34min: Will children with a 121 classroom assistant be in a bubble of their own?
  • 39.25min: Will staff and children be tested and will staff have to regularly check their temperature? (One parent referred to her place of work where they have to take their temperature before they leave for work and email their reading into the office)
  • 40.24min: What will happen if I don’t send my child to school?  
  • What are the plans for lunches and school meals? Can a lunch be brought from home? Will hot school meals be available?
  • 34.18min: Are the current plans for full school days, half days, alternate days?
  • 35.58min: Will staff be wearing PPE?
  • 37.22min: What do you mean by limiting or preventing shared resources from coming home? What resources are you referring to? Could parents be issued with a list of all their necessary supplies?  
  • 38.38min: Will access to school Ipads and computers be withdrawn due to children not being able to share resources?
  • What will happen where there are a number of children from one family attending the same or different schools, each with staggered starting and finishing times?
  • 35.26min: Parents have a couple of concerns regarding the guidance issued on uniform but the main one is – if clean uniform is basically desirable but not essential and we are told the virus lives on fabric, could uniform rules be relaxed to allow for example, jumpers or hoodies instead of blazers? This would ease financial worries and having to get blazers in particular regularly cleaned 


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