Some schools may have to open over the Easter holidays to look after the children of key workers.
That is according to updated guidance from the Department of Education (DE).
The department also said that one „hub“ school in an area could take pupils from a number of other schools if local agreements were reached.
According to DE figures, 1,172 children of key workers and vulnerable children attended school on Tuesday, 24 March.
Some 580 schools opened to provide care for the children of parents providing essential goods and services.
The highest number of pupils at any individual school was 17.
Education Minister Peter Weir had previously asked parents only to send their child to school as a „last resort“.
Mr Weir said the updated guidance was in response to queries received by the department, including whether schools would be expected to open at weekends or over the Easter holidays.
„Where possible, we would encourage, pre-education settings and schools to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays and consider whether weekend provision can be facilitated,“ the Department of Education guidance said.
„This will be kept under review.“
The guidance also said that other public sector workers could be used in schools to care for children as long as they had the necessary security clearances.
They might be needed to keep a school open if a number of staff were ill, isolating or at risk.
However, schools and pre-schools are to be allowed to create „hubs“ if necessary.
That would mean only one school staying open in an area, which could then take pupils from a number of schools so that fewer would have to stay open with small numbers of pupils.
„All schools and pre-school education settings are being asked to work together,“ the guidance said.
„This may include the attendance of staff at a setting other than their own or the attendance of children at a setting other than their normal setting.“
„Where schools wish to work together to create a localised cluster arrangement, whereby certain schools in a close geographical area wish to agree collectively to have a ‘hub’ school to service all children within the area, this is permissible where it is sensible to do so.“
Those schools, though, would be expected to observe Public Health Agency (PHA) guidelines on safety including social distancing rules.
The guidance also said that special schools were expected to be open, as their pupils had special educational needs and therefore were defined as vulnerable children.
In a letter accompanying the guidance, Mr Weir thanked school staff but urged them all to play a part in providing care for the children of critical workers.