Flintshire Council chiefs welcome schools reopening in June but Wales’ Chief Medical Officer wanted to hold off until August
The chief medical officer of Wales (CMO) has said his preference for the reopening of schools would have been August – not the June date announced this week.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams confirmed schools will begin to open from June 29 for all year groups to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September.”
The move will see year groups split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks.
It’s expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.
In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
During yesterday’s daily Welsh Government briefing, CMO Dr Frank Atherton said his “preferred option would have been to reopen the schools perhaps towards the end of summer in the August, to give us a little bit more time.”
He said: “I understand that was not attractive to the unions, so we’ve got a second best option, which is that we’re going to reopen the schools towards the end of June for a short period of time with very different arrangements so that it can be done safely.
I think we can do that safely. We do need to monitor it and track it.
It will be for a limited period of time, that will give us the summer to understand what has happened to the levels of infection.
It will basically give us more information which is what we need to manage this this this pandemic.”
Following Dr Atherton’s press conference Kirsty Williams tweeted: “The decision to enable children to have some time in school ahead of the summer break puts the safety and wellbeing of learners first and foremost and is fully in line with the latest scientific advice.”
“We also explored reopening schools later in the summer but this would have involved a complete structural change to the school year. Both approaches were fully endorsed by
“We published a paper yesterday from the Wales COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education. This is a summary of the latest available science and evidence.”
“We will continue to work closely with @CMOWales over the next three and half weeks as we prepare to move into the next phase of education.”
The announcement that schools will reopen at the end of June has been welcomed by Flintshire County Council, a spokesperson said: “We welcome the Education Minister’s announcement that schools can begin to prepare for an increase in operations from 29 June until 24 July to enable pupils to check in, catch up, and prepare for September.
During this period of school closure, we have successfully delivered a safe model of emergency childcare by working in partnership with our schools and other council services.
Schools have also worked very creatively to maintain pupil engagement in learning though a variety of means.
It is clear that they will have to operate in a very different way for the foreseeable future, providing a combination of face to face and remote learning – a blended learning approach.”
Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education and Youth, Councillor Ian Roberts, said: “It is important that we give the opportunity to both parents and pupils to allow young people to return before the beginning of the summer holidays.
This time will allow them to rekindle friendships, review how their learning has been going with their teachers and be supported in readiness for the autumn term, particularly if they are at key points of transition. However, the Minister has clearly indicated that it is for parents to decide if their children should return and the usual attendance requirements will not be in place during this time.”
“Staff, pupils, parents and carers will be given as much notice as possible about the individual arrangements in their schools so they have time to prepare for a smooth and safe return.”
Flintshire’s Chief Officer for Education and Youth, Claire Homard, said: “We have started already to work very closely with head teachers to plan how schools will operate from 29 June and we will update you as soon as we have finalised those plans.
“We appreciate that at this point there may be many questions that pupils and families will have but please be assured that the Council and its schools will seek to address these in the new few weeks and will communicate with you regularly.”
We would like to reassure our school workforce, our pupils and their families that everyone’s safety and wellbeing will be at the core of our planning and preparations. We have well established routines of social distancing and hygiene in all our hub settings which can be transferred into every school.
We have detailed guidance, suitable risk assessments and appropriate resources to support our schools in their planning and preparations for reopening and at all times be working within the Welsh Government’s ‘Stay Safe, Stay Learning’ policy framework.”
The Education Minister’s announcement come as a surprise to teachers and parents – with unions calling for a cautious approach when pupils return back to school.
Wales Secretary of the NEU, David Evans said: “The Minister’s statement in which she has opened schools to all year groups with effect from 29 June does not sit well with NEU Cymru.
It is too much, too soon and whilst splitting year groups into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks may mean that, at most, a third of pupils may be present at any one time, in the larger secondary schools that will mean hundreds of pupils on site with all the logistical difficulties that will bring in respect of social distancing, cleaning of premises, travel implications, availability of PPE and threats of transmission of the virus.”
“Whilst primary schools tend to be smaller, it could still lead to a significant number of students being present across all age groups. We know that factors such as social distancing are virtually impossible the younger the child.
“We do not yet know how the track and trace system implemented this week will fare. It is too early to come to conclusions on the success of this vitally needed process. Further the Minister has given no indication as to how her own 5 principles have been satisfied.”
GMB, the union for school support staff is calling on the Welsh Government to ensure that rigorous health and safety checks are applied before staff and children return to schools in Wales.
Nicola Savage, GMB Welsh Education lead said: “We’ve been meeting with the Welsh Government regularly and we’ve made clear that we back a cautious approach. It’s vital that any return to school is accompanied with the proper risk assessments.
“It’s important that the Welsh Government put safety of staff and children first, and so far from our discussions, we’re confident that is forefront at their mind.
“This is a process and over the next few weeks, we’ll be consulting with our members in a series of online meetings to hear and monitor the return to work.
“Our members should be reassured this will not be a dive in at the deep end. We will assist them every step of the way in the journey back to work, ensuring that rigorous Social distancing plus Health and Safety measures are enforced.”
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