43 Balloo Road
Our Ref: DE/2020-0069
Dear Mrs Weir
Freedom of Information Act 2000
I refer to your Freedom of Information Request received in the Department 22 June
2020 which requested:
1. A copy of the health guidance or other information that was used to decide to drop
the social distance in schools from 2 metres to 1 metre.
2. Details on the decision making process and information that led to schools opening
on 24 August and why that changed from 17 August.
In relation to item 1 of your request, as the New School Day guidance makes clear,
and as agreed by the Executive at its meeting on 18 June 2020, the current social
distancing guidance of 2m must be followed between all adults within the education
sector in line with Public Health Agency guidelines, but a distance of 1m is an
appropriate planning assumption for social distancing between children and young
people while using a ‘protective bubble’ strategy.
The 1m planning assumption is based on the Minister’s decision that schools should
reopen to pupils on 24 August, just over a month from now and should be viewed in
that context. It will be reviewed and refreshed where appropriate as the Northern
Ireland Executive’s Coronavirus response is rolled out. The guidance also makes clear
that public health advice at the time of school opening will always prevail over the
aspirational planning assumptions made within the guidance.
Further detail on the medical evidence considered is available here.
In relation to item 2 of your request, the Minister asked officials and the wider education
sector to consider how the Department and education system can jointly prepare for
the return of children to school after the current restrictions are eased. The Department
has established the Education Restart Programme, which, working alongside a wide
range of stakeholders, will put in place the detailed measures and guidance which will
enable a safe phased reopening of schools.
The Education Restart Programme will ensure that the reopening of schools is done
in a manner and in a timescale which is safe for our pupils, our staff and wider society.
The pathway to recovery has been discussed with Executive colleagues and will follow
the route outlined in the education section of the Executive Approach to Decision
A number of underlying principles will inform restart planning design and delivery.
Education Restart will:
o Be Evidence Informed
– the timing of Restart will be determined by
circumstances and evidence, not by dates.
o Seek to Protect the Workforce and Learners
– the health and well-being
of our workforce and our pupils will be a primary concern.
o Require Collaboration and Consultation with Stakeholders
– Restart will
clearly benefit from the support and confidence of a range of stakeholders
including delivery partners, unions, teachers, sectoral bodies, parents and
o Involve Planning for a New Normal
– the impact on the school day will be
significant, a transitionary service model is required which ensure education
is safe and effective.
o Result in Phasing and Prioritisation –
stringent social distancing in
schools will be difficult to achieve. This will require careful management
including phased returns, prioritisation of learners and ongoing blended
The Department is well aware it cannot deliver the Restart Programme without the
support and confidence of the education workforce. Northern Ireland Schools Re-
was published on 19 June 2020 and supplementary guidance will
issue in the coming weeks. To this end, the Department will continue to work alongside
stakeholders through both Practitioners Groups and the established consultative fora
to ensure a safe and effective re-opening of schools for the benefit of our children and
The guidelines have been co-designed with the school principals on the Practitioners
Group. Their insight has been invaluable and their willingness to work at such intensity
above and beyond their ‘day job’ should be commended. Proposals have been shared
with trade union colleagues and sectoral bodies for consultation and input.
If you are unhappy with the level of service you have received in relation to your
request, you may ask for an internal review within two calendar months of the date of
this letter. If you wish to do so, please write to the Departmental Information Manager,
Rathgael House, 43 Balloo Road, Rathgill, Bangor BT19 7PR or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
if you wish to make a complaint.
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to
apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a review of our original decision.
The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:
Information Commissioner’s Office
Cheshire SK9 5AF
If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please remember to
quote the reference number above in any future communications.