Yesterday the deputy First Minister, Junior Ministers and I met with a diverse group of faith leaders. This was a constructive engagement, and further meetings are to take place.
There was a common desire for an indicative date for reopening places of worship, and providing a lead in time.
The Chief Medical Officer has agreed to attend the next meeting of the working group, and guidance will be produced around issues such as weddings, funerals, Christenings and other celebrations.
We have been advised today that the R rate is currently between 0.6 and 0.9. The virus continues to be controlled and the numbers of new cases remain small.
This has allowed the Executive to take a number of further decisions today.
We have agreed that places of worship should plan on the basis of reopening from the week beginning 29th June. The Executive will confirm this date next Thursday, dependent on the virus remaining under control.
We can also announce, based on the scientific and medical advice, that hairdressers, barbers and nail bars can aim to open provisionally from Monday 6th July.
The Executive also agreed a proposal from the Health Minister that those who are shielding are to be advised that they can pause shielding from 31st July.
The Executive also agreed a programme of targeted activity over the summer to support children and young people, particularly the most vulnerable.
The Education Minister will extend and expand the EA Youth Services Eat Well Live Well programme to cover the months of July and August to ensure that up to 10,000 young people have at least one good meal.
A business case is also being developed that would allow the Executive to support over the summer months those children who are in receipt of free school meals during the rest of the year.
A Youth Sector Reference Group will be established to inform the most effective summer youth work interventions in this unprecedented year.
Diversionary activities will be provided through a limited version of the Planned Interventions programme. There will be targeted outreach to respond to youth at risk, informed and supported by the PSNI, as well as individual and small group work.
With the end of the school term later this month, provision for key workers’ children will have to adapt and change. The Executive has agreed to permit limited resumption of youth summer programmes prioritising key worker children aged 9 to 13 years, delivered by voluntary youth organisations and uniformed organisations.
The Education Authority will communicate with all key workers who have used the arrangements thus far, to signpost them to additional support and schemes in place over the summer.
The Executive has also agreed to incorporate youth workers in the list of key workers.
The Education Minister also plans a range of projects to help with catch-up as a result of the disruption caused by Covid.
These will include:
virtual classroom or distance learning to support numeracy and literacy.
financial support to any school (or community organisation) which wishes to voluntarily run a short summer school this year for Years 5,6 and 7 children.
an educational support package targeting schools in socially deprived areas (called Engage) which will target literacy and numeracy support, mental wellbeing and nurture support for the 2020-21 academic year in both primary and post-primary schools.
It is also the intention to continue the Whole School Nurture Approaches pilot programme this year to reach as many primary school children as possible.
We are keen to see childcare return to full capacity.
From 1st July access, the restriction on access to the childcare sector to only key workers is being removed so that all parents will be able to avail of childcare again.
And with the exception of childminders, there are no plans to limit the capacity of children who can be cared for, from July.
For childminders, they will be able to look after 4 families from the end of this month, and 5 families from August.
In terms of schools, our objective is to see a full-time return to classroom learning for all pupils as soon as possible when safe to do so. All pupils returning to face to face learning is key for educational development but also it is essential to enable the recovery of our economy and society.
Guidance will be issued to schools shortly on measures for returning in the autumn.
Year 7, 12 and 14 will return a week early on the 24th August.
In the event that physical distancing is still required when schools return, the Executive, following scientific and medical advice, has agreed that schools plan on the basis of 1m distancing between pupils.
After advice from the Department of Health and the PHA, the Education Minister has advised that 1m distancing will allow the school attendance pattern to return close to normality.
Primary school children will, in the main, be able to return to full time education with 1m social distancing between children and each class being viewed as a protective bubble. A minority of smaller-sized classrooms may make this more challenging and we expect education settings to use all available space within the school to best facilitate a normal full return to school.
Post-primary schools will also in the main, be able to return to full time education with 1m social distancing between children and young people with each class being viewed as a ‘protective bubble’.
Older pupils in year 11 and above will be expected to adhere to social distancing but will not operate in protective bubbles.
The overall approach to schools will be kept constantly under review, and evolve in line with scientific advice.
However I welcome the progress today as a major step towards normality in our schools.