Schools in Northern Ireland will not reopen before March 5, First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed this evening.
It comes one week after the Executive made the decision to extend the current coronavirus lockdown to March 5.
Ministers met today to discuss a paper brought forward by Education Minister Peter Weir which recommended extending the period of remote learning for schools.
But today, it was confirmed that home schooling will be extended for another three weeks to coincide with the extension of other lockdown restrictions.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mrs Foster said she knew the announcement would not come as a surprise.
“Today the Executive has decided that schools will not be able to fully open again before 5 March, this will apply to all educational settings including pre-schols, nurseries, primaries and post-primaries.
“Special schools will remain open and mainstream schools will continue to provide supervised learning for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
“Childcare settings and child minders will also remain open.
“We have tried to keep you fully informed on the course of the pandemic so I know it is unlikely to come as a significant surprise today that we are keeping to remote learning and it is also in line with decisions elsewhere, but I also understand for so many it will still be felt as a disappointment that we can not yet press the restart button on this and indeed many other aspects of daily life.
“As a working mother of children still in full time education, I have a sense how difficult home schooling can be practically, educationally, and emotionally.
“The kitchen table is no substitute for the school desk and as my children would no doubt agree, parents are no substitute for trained teachers or lecturers.
“I am resolved, as is this Executive, to get our young people back into the classroom as soon as possible because that is the best place for them to learn and to achieve their full potential and to have the best life chances.
“Today I want to send a message to all young people to say that we understand how difficult this is for you, you are coping with much change and much uncertainty and we recognise the new challenges which you are experiencing and we are determined to do all we can to support you as well.
“We know you haven’t had the benefit of in-class teaching for the equivalent of half a school year, since the start of Covid-19, and for those who in exam transition points this has been a particularly difficult time.”
She also said the R rate for new cases has fallen to well below 1 and is currently siting between 0.65 and 0.8. But she added that the number of patients in specialist intensive care is still high.
The announcement comes after the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that schools in England will not reopen before March 8.
In the Republic of Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Monday the government intends to reopen schools on a “phased basis” in February and March.
-- to www.belfastlive.co.uk