I am acutely aware of the issues faced by many schools in respect of teacher allocations and class sizes. Under the Programme for Government there is a commitment to seek to make further progress in reducing the pupil teacher ratios in primary schools and it is my intention to make progress on this in future budgets.
The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. Primary schools are currently provided with class teachers on the basis of one teacher for every 26 pupils which is at its historically lowest level.
The staffing process also includes an appeals mechanism for schools to submit a staffing appeal under certain criteria and the Primary Staffing Appeals Board are currently accepting staffing appeals from schools. As part of the appeal process the Appeals Board will consider appeals where schools clearly demonstrate how their enrolments were negatively impacted by COVID-19.
My Department has published a suite of helpful guidance for the safe and sustainable reopening of schools including illustrative Primary Classroom Layouts to facilitate physical distancing requirements for primary schools. Each school is also required to have a COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe operation through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in line with public health advice. This guidance is focused on the practical steps schools must take to minimise the risk of transmission of infection.