Schools: CEV Pupils

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Claire Sugden Claire Sugden Independent 2:30 pm, 21st September 2021

T6. Ms Sugden asked the Minister of Education, in the light of the fact that responsibility for contact tracing has moved from school principals to the Public Health Agency, with principals and parents, particularly those with clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) children, now concerned that they are not being contacted when positive cases are identified, to the end that they are considering whether to send their children to school at all and are willing to risk an unauthorised absence, how she is supporting principals and parents with those concerns and if those concerns are genuine, because their kids are very ill, will those parents be supported rather than penalised. (AQT 1586/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question, in particular in relation to children who are extremely vulnerable. She may recall that, on 9 September, a letter from the Chief Medical Officer explained that schools were a safe place for children and staff. He outlined that the evidence showed that the vast majority of those who were identified as close contacts did not go on to develop COVID. However, the basis of the Executive policy is that, in most cases, clinically extremely vulnerable pupils should be able to continue to attend school.

It is important that we remember that a CEV child is likely to have been very vulnerable to a wide range of threats, including flu, over many years and that schools that have been working alongside them are very much alert to that. They work with not only the child but the family to put in place arrangements to manage the specific risks to those children. That was the case even before COVID came into existence. The management of COVID for those pupils is very similar to that approach, and it is about trying to minimise the risks for them. Additional measures are being put in place, such as CEV pupils over the age of 12 being eligible for a vaccine, the use of face coverings in post-primary settings and asymptomatic testing being available for staff, post-primary pupils and special-school pupils.

If a school has particular concerns about a CEV pupil or a member of staff, it should contact the EA helpline, and that can be escalated, as necessary, with the PHA. If the Member has a concern and would like it raised, I would appreciate it if she could contact my office, and I can also follow that up.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 21st September 2021

Time is up. Members should take their ease for a moment or two before we move to the next item on the Order Paper.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)