The new directive says schools should “strive” to continue to implement social distancing, maintain “effective contact tracing” and although the formal bubbling in schools has been removed by the executive, schools are encouraged to “always seek to reduce contact” between classes.
The detailed set of guidelines also includes advice for schools on the use of face coverings.
Last week, the executive decided to keep face covers for post-primary students in classrooms for the first six weeks of the term, subject to review.
In the new document to schools, the education minister said post-primary students should “wear face coverings at all times inside school buildings, including classrooms, hallways and confined common areas such as toilets ”.
The department also clarified that it will be compulsory for all students of post-primary school age to wear a face covering on all public and school transport.
Michelle McIlveen said the published guidelines “will help schools plan ahead” for the new school year.
“This allows school leaders to determine their own individual circumstances when deciding on the measures necessary to ensure that children and young people can access education in a safe environment,” she said.
“While I encourage school leaders to consider the advice in its entirety, I want to highlight a few areas that have changed ahead of the new school year.
“Educational settings are no longer necessary to operate a system of formal protective bubbles. However, in order to promote effective contact tracing, schools will be asked to ensure that students stay in cohesive groups, to the extent possible.
“Schools should continue to put measures in place to minimize the transmission of the virus.
“Face coverings should continue to be worn inside all school buildings by post-primary students, including in classrooms from the start of the school year. The Executive agreed that this would be reviewed on October 8.
“Regarding self-isolation and testing for staff and students identified as close contacts, guidelines are being prepared by the Public Health Agency prior to return to school, in accordance with guidelines current for close contacts on the nidirect website.
“I am confident that the revised ministry guidelines provide school leaders with the flexibility to allow all of our children and youth to access all aspects of their education in the New Year in an environment that continues to grow. reduce the risk of virus transmission.
“I would like to thank the school leaders and staff for their continued support and wish all students, teachers and staff a safe return to all of our educational settings. “
The full published guide can be viewed at https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-schools-and-educational-settings-northern-ireland