Appointment of an Expert Panel to Examine Links between Persistent Educational Underachievement and Socio-economic Background

Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:30 am on 28th July 2020.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 11:30 am, 28th July 2020

I appreciate that it goes a bit beyond the statement, but, from a sedentary position, the Member raised the difference between a classroom and a bus. It is noticeable, for example, that, in the arrangements for public transport that have been put in place by the Executive, in line with, again, the health considerations, anybody under the age of 13 is exempt from wearing a mask. It is also the case that school transport is not included in the requirement to wear a mask. Neither I nor the Member have a direct public health background, particularly not to the same expertise of the Public Health Agency. The guidance is, in part, driven by the fact the vulnerability of children, particularly younger children, is much lower than adults. There is also an expectation that it is not realistic to expect young children, particularly primary-school children, to sit with a mask on all day. That it is not particularly controllable. Any advice that we have given has been entirely compatible with the advice of the Public Health Agency, and we have worked alongside it. If the Public Health Agency of the Department of Health said, "There is emerging evidence, and we insist that a particular measure is taken", there would be no problem from our point of view in taking that measure. What we cannot do is to go off and make judgements on health issues through solo runs. We will be guided by the science and the medicine. That is why there is a distinction in that.

As I said, we have worked closely with the Public Health Agency to develop and put out the guidance that has been issued to date. The safety of our pupils and staff is paramount.