Education Minister Peter Weir has said that 14 clusters involving 56 schools have been formally registered with the Department.
A further 42 schools have indicated they are interested in becoming involved in cluster arrangements.
This follows the introduction of clustering to help ensure that schools and pre-school settings can provide a sustainable service for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
The Minister said: “I wrote to all schools at the start of April outlining the continuing, and potentially increasing, demand for schools to provide places for vulnerable children and the children of key workers who are at the front line of the work to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The concept of clustering arrangements was introduced to ensure that schools and pre-school settings could pool resources to provide safe and welcoming places for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.”
A registration system was put in place for Covid-19 clusters which has resulted in a sizeable number of pre-schools and schools willing to become involved.
Peter Weir continued: “This is a good start and I hope that this will encourage more schools to get involved in cluster arrangements.
“In addition, the Education Authority (EA) has put in place a comprehensive support system for schools and key worker parents to ensure, as far as possible, that every parent needing a place for their child can secure one.
“Key workers can apply online for assistance and will be allocated a caseworker who will work with them to meet their needs.
“I am pleased that the number of children needing a placement continues to decrease and am grateful to the Education Authority along with our other education partners and school leaders for stepping forward to provide this important service during this crisis.”
When the application process was first introduced, the Education Authority experienced a high volume of placement requests from key workers.
The Minister said: “I am concerned that there are still children who remain unplaced, particularly as we face into an increased demand for places from key workers as Covid-19 cases increase. Longer periods of care will also be required to cover weekends and over holidays.
“However, with the introduction of C19 Clusters and increased collaboration with school leaders we are confident that the number of children unable to secure placements will continue to reduce.
“I convey my deep appreciation to all staff, teaching and non-teaching who have given extensive time and effort to support learning, both at home and in schools. Their help at this time is greatly appreciated.
“I know all our education staff will work collaboratively to meet the challenges ahead. This pandemic requires a concerted effort across all areas of the education service and together we can meet this challenge head on.”
A full list of clusters is available on the Department’s website. – https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/department-education-releases-covid-19-coronavirus