Ask the Experts — Parentkind speaks to the NI Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA

01 May 2020
Covid-19, school closures, restrictions on day-day life as the norm’ we knew, have thrown up a number of fears and concerns for parents and young people.

We are all being held hostage by a tiny invisible monster and whilst we are yearning for normality to return, none of us know what that new norm’ will be or how we are going to get there.

Parents are grappling with multiple worries including the new role they have been plunged into – supporting their child/ren’s learning from home. In our survey, parents have told us their concerns about the impact that the pandemic will have on their children’s mental health, their worries about missed learning, transition and much more.

Parentkind is extremely grateful to the Minister of Education for taking the time to speak to us and directly to parents to help alleviate some of their fears on these topics. 

In our first short video we have asked the Minister two questions that we also asked parents in our latest parent survey, these two questions are:

  1. Minister Weir, in your opinion, are parents teaching from home or supporting learning?
  2. When do you feel that children should return to school?

We trust that parents and schools will take great comfort from the Minister’s response to question two. He clearly states it will not be an easy decision given the multiple factors and implications but also reinforces that the decision will be based on scientific evidence and recommendations from all specialists and experts involved. 

Prior to lockdown mental health resources we already at breaking point in our schools and in our second parents survey on school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, children’s mental health featured in the top three concerns by NI parents. Here the Minister tells us about his commitment to mental health resources when children return to school

In our survey 45% of parents told us of their worry for children missing learning delivered by teachers and a further 28% said they were worried about their children falling behind their classmates. We asked Minister Weir about what plans are there in place to support missed learning and also to help narrow the attainment gap that was already causing concern before Covid-19

Moving to big school has churned up even more worries for children and parents this year. We know of one school that is supporting pupils remotely with transitional anxiety. Parents are also worried about getting a school place this year and will they receive notification at the end of May if their child has got a place in their preference 1,2, 3 or other school. The Minister talked to us about these concerns in detail here

Detailed and up-to-date information on the grading of GCSEs, AS Levels and A Level can be found here on the CCEA website, but when talking to the Minister we asked him specifically about the resits for AS Levels. It is this year that parents are particularly worried about.

10.5% of parents in NI were concerned about the transfer test 2020 in comparison to 2% England. We asked the Education Minister could he give the parents any update on this and we also asked what advice would he give parents supporting learning from home

A bit about the Education Minister, Peter Weir MLA

Formerly member of the Northern Ireland Forum 1996–98, MLA since 1998 now representing Strangford, having previously worked as a Barrister before becoming an MLA. Former member of North Down Borough Council, also served as President of the Local Government Association. In the Assembly has served on a number of Committees- Education, Environment, Employment and Learning, Justice, Finance and the Business Committee, as well as 5 years on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Chair of the Education Committee 2015–16, Minister of Education 2016–17, 2020 to current.

Coming up

For frontline-working parents, we met up (online) with Professor Cherie Armour, expert in Trauma and Mental Health at Queen’s University Belfast and asked her for thoughts based on evidence base and research what her message she would like to relay to you to help assist some of bespoke concerns you have about promoting your own positive psychological wellbeing. This video will also be available next week.