Back to school plans met with mixed response from headteachers and unions

0
75


Headteachers have given a mixed response to Welsh Government plans to bring the youngest pupils back to school after half term.

Some warned social distancing is most difficult among three to seven-year olds but agreed they find it hardest to engage with remote learning.

They said they wanted children back but will need enough time to plan their return and repeated requests for staff to be prioritised for the coronavirus vaccine.

Jane Jenkins, chair of Cardiff Primary Heads Association, said families would also need reassuring that schools are safe.

“Families are definitely nervous to send children back to school as things stand so proceeding cautiously is what’s needed,” she cautioned.

Even the vaccination roll out may not be enough to reassure some it’s safe.

The National Association of Headteachers Cymru said: “It is clear that there are still too many unknowns, such as the effectiveness of the vaccine and the pace at which infections are falling, to put the 22 February date firmly in the diary yet.”

Schools are shut again to all except some vulnerable and key workers’ children after fears over the new coronavirus variant being more easily transmitted. Scientists had previously said transmission of coronavirus is less in young children.

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced earlier today (FRI JAN 29) that if coronavirus cases continue to fall schools can start bringing Foundation Phase years (three to seven year-olds) back after February half term in what he described as a “phased and flexible back-to-school approach”.

No details of how this would work or what infection rates must be to allow this to happen were given.

There was also no indication about when or how other pupils, including those in key exam years, will get back to school.

Last week the First Minister a return of all pupils this term was “unlikely”. But today he suggested more details are expected in the next week or so.

“We want to give schools two weeks notice so next week we’ll be discussing with educators, authorities and trade unions our plans to make a safe return for the youngest learners,” he said.

“There has been cause for optimism, with cases falling for the last six weeks, and if we continue to see that fall we will have some headroom for some children returning.”

What headteachers think of plans to bring the youngest children back to school:

Chloe Ford, headteacher, Meadowlane Primary, Cardiff



Headteacher Chloe Ford with staff planning social distancing ahead of school re-opening in September

“We need and want our children back in school where they can learn and socialise.

“However, it’s got to be safe for that to happen. In terms of the younger children returning at the moment, for me, there is still uncertain ground in terms of this new variant and levels of transmission in younger children.

“I want them back but we need to know and need reassurance about transmission of the new variant with those younger years.

“In terms of social distancing it is most difficult with younger children. So if, with the new variant, it is felt social distancing is required that would pose a staffing issue. We would need to split all those children into small bubbles. We need to see the detail of the opening plan.

“I would support vaccination staff. It would give people confidence. There are not many jobs where staff work with people from 30 family bubbles and no social distancing.

“We are in a situation again where we don’t quite know what to expect We don’t know if younger children will come back after half term or what that will look like. Health and safety has to come first. If we know they can return safely absolutely, but if there’s any doubt we should wait.”

Jonathan Keohane, headteacher Roath Park Primary



Jonathan Keohane with pupils before lockdown

“Schools have done a tremendous job at providing rich and worthwhile home learning activities; however, it would be amiss if we do not recognise that online learning is not as effective as face to face teaching. This is especially true in the Foundation Phase where most of the learning is through play and social interaction.

“The announcement is a welcome ray of light to a return for our youngest children. All schools want that for our children.

“There will be questions about the timing and if it would be more beneficial to wait until the start of the summer term as this half term is incredibly short. But this is a fine balance to get things right.

“Children being safely in school is vital, not only for their education but for their social development, wellbeing and in some cases safety. But safety must also be a carefully thought out consideration. The First Minister notes that the risk of youngest children transmitting Covid was “the least of all” but within that statement he is noting there is risk.

“You could counterbalance this with the fact the youngest children need more close contact support, such as helping with coats and shoelaces. A concern for some staff is taking this virus home. Many staff across Wales may be carers for vulnerable family members.

“We must trust the science and experts. The infection rates are shrinking in Wales, but they are still high, we mustn’t lose sight of that. We are still firmly in the eye of the storm and there is much more work to do.”

Jane Jenkins, head of Moorland Primary in Cardiff and chair of Cardiff Primary Heads Association




They (Foundation Phase) are certainly the age group that need to return first. Online learning with this age group is definitely the most challenging.

“However, they are also the age group from whom it is hardest to socially distance. The close contact that early years carers and educators have with young children and their families is a risk and staff in this sector need to be vaccinated as a matter of urgency.

“I would not want to see whole classes return full time without this protection for staff being in place.

“Vaccination definitely, especially for staff working with very young children, and reduced class sizes so children attend on a part time basis.”

View from the unions

Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, said: “Welsh Government has stated today that Foundation phase will begin to return to school from 22 February.

“It has been a challenge for families to juggle employment and home-learning, and school leaders want to see nothing more than pupils back in class as soon as it is safe to do so.

“But it is clear that there are still too many unknowns, such as the effectiveness of the vaccine and the pace at which infections are falling, to put the 22 February date firmly in the diary yet.

“Talks have already begun between the Welsh Government and trade unions to make sure that there is a workable plan for lifting the lockdown. This includes reviewing all of the safety measures that schools have been using up to now, to make sure they are still effective.

“The Welsh Government will also have to put effort into reassuring families that it is safe to send their children back to school – there is a confidence test the government must pass to make the return a success.

“It is also important that the teaching workforce is prioritised for vaccinations. This would give confidence as well as providing a better chance that once lockdown measures are lifted, children’s education is less likely to continue to be disrupted by staff absence and illness.”

Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the teachers’ union, called for clarity about plans for all pupils.

“Given previous experience, the announcement of arbitrary dates for schools to re-open to all pupils can be profoundly unhelpful to parents and to those working in schools.

“However, a clear plan for how schools will be fully re-opened whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted remains a key question which the Welsh Government must now work urgently and openly with the profession to address and I welcome the commitment from the First Minister to work with the education unions on this.”

Neil Butler, NASUWT National Official Wales said:

“We appreciate that the Welsh Government has committed to fully engage with education unions over plans for a return to school settings and we look forward to serious negotiations on this issue.

“We also understand why the Welsh Government wants to prioritise the return of the youngest children to the classroom, but given the difficulty in ensuring social distancing with these children it is time for the Welsh Government to look at vaccinating those education workers who will be expected to work in these settings before the end of February half term.”

National Education Union Cymru senior Wales officer, Gareth Lloyd, said:

“We welcome that Welsh Government want to use any head room created by sustained efforts to suppress the virus, to support the education sector.

“We have highlighted the need for a range of measures to be put in place – such as smaller class sizes and social distancing.

“NEU Cymru continues to work with the Welsh Government to try and make any wider return as safe as possible.

“We must be mindful that everyone will be apprehensive about a potential rise in the virus levels if we open up too quickly, so a phased approach is welcome, as a safe return is essential.

“Educators want a full return to the classroom, as nothing is better than face-to-face learning for everyone. But sadly we are not in that place at the moment.”

Dilwyn Roberts-Young, UCAC General Secretary said “Everyone wants to see a return to face-to-face learning as soon as it is safe to do so – the advantages for children, young people, families and staff are clear.

“We welcome the fact that the final decision about any possible phased and flexible return will be based on the latest scientific and medical evidence. We note the need to provide schools and colleges with sufficient notice to put the relevant arrangements in place, before half term.

“We will continue discussions with Welsh Government, local government and Further Education colleges to ensure that any return is as safe as possible for everyone. We will certainly be raising the issue of vaccinating staff in these discussions, as well as the need to ensure support for the mental, emotional and physical health of staff and pupils.”



Source link

قالب وردپرس

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here