Posted: Tue 1st Sep 2020

Education Minister: “Balance of risk“ is of greater harm to children not returning to school than being in school

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Sep 1st, 2020

It’s a big week for schools in Wales as children head back to the classroom following the summer break.

It is expected all learners in will return to full-time education over the next couple of weeks, secondary schools in Flintshire are staggering start dates for different year groups.

Flintshire council issued guidance last week on the use of face coverings.*

The move comes after The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an update saying children over the age of 12 should wear masks.

Wales’ education minister has said there’s is a “greater risk of harm” to children from “not returning to school than being in school.”

Kirsty Williams also said the Welsh Government was in discussions about changes to next summer’s exam timetable following calls for A-levels and GCSEs to pushed back to allow extra teaching time.

The education minister told BBC Radio Wales this morning: “Throughout this pandemic over 500 of our schools have been open providing care for critical workers children and vulnerable children.”

“Prior to the summer holidays, we were the only part of the United Kingdom that successfully created an opportunity for all of our children to return to school that was managed to safely and securely.”

“All of our children had the opportunity to go back to school for a period of time, we’ve learned the lessons and the experience of that has been invaluable as we plan for this full return to school this week.

Kirsty Williams said “community transmission rates” of Covid-19 are lower than they were during the height of the pandemic and “indeed when schools reopened prior to the summer, so this is absolutely the right time to go back.”

“The balance of risk is very much one of greater harm being done to children not returning to school than being in our schools.”

“Our schools are as safe as they possibly can be, a lot of hard work is being done by local education authorities and headteachers, and members of the profession to get us to this situation.”

The Welsh Government has said that parents who don’t send their children back to school will not be faced with fines “but this will be kept under review.”

The education minister said: “As we return to education in the ‘new normal’ we want to have reassuring conversations with parents rather than threatening with them with fines.

“This is being discussed with our school leaders and unions who believe that this is the right approach, but we will keep it under review, but I hope the parents will recognize that what is best for their children, though, is to return to school and to get back to learning.”

“We will review the issue of fines for parents as we progress, but at this stage, it is absolutely appropriate that we have conversations to understand why parents may still have concerns, why they don’t want to send their children back and to work with parents to reassure them.”

Children in Wales were allowed back to the classroom prior to the summer break to “check in, catch up and prepare” sessions but around 40 per cent of pupils didn’t attend.

Kirsty Williams said: “What we saw prior to the summer was that initially there was some reluctance in the first week” for the “check in, catch up and prepare” sessions.”

“But, if a parent saw other parents returning children to school and that was being done safely and securely as possible, we saw confidence grow and parents then sent children back in the second and third week.

“What’s really important is that we work together, myself, local education authorities and individual schools to reassure parents about the fact that our schools are as safe as they possibly can be.”

“At this time there are no risk-free options, every time each one of us goes out to the supermarket or perhaps goes to visit family or friends or undertakes a different activity we have to balance those risks.”

“The balance now is very clearly in favour of children returning to school, but we need to do that safely, that’s why we have provided additional resources for the cleaning of our schools and extra hygiene measures.”

“We are also providing additional resources to help children catch up, we’re all aware that nothing can replace the time in front of a teacher.”

This lockdown has had a significant impact on children’s education, it’s not just about making sure that when children go back they will have the additional support that they need to catch up.”

UK Labour party has called for next year’s A-levels and GCSEs in England to be delayed because of coronavirus, shadow education secretary Kate Green said exams should be pushed back to allow extra teaching time as pupils now face a “mountain to climb” after losing out on up to six months of teaching because of COVID-19.

Kirsty Williams said there are already discussions taking place between Qualification Wales and the other UK regulators about a change in next summer’s exam timetable.

“There are lots of options that are being considered, but I want to be absolutely clear to parents whose children are going into those crucial exam years, we are already in discussions with the profession.

“The WJEC (exam board in Wales) has made adaptations to the courses for both GCSE, A-Level and vocational qualifications and those have been communicated to schools.

Qualifications Wales is in discussions with other parts of the United Kingdom and their regulators about to change in next summer’s exam timetable, all options are being considered.”

“We have to think about the knock-on consequences, so I understand why taking exams later in the summer would allow for additional teaching time, but we also have to make sure that those exams are administered properly and what the knock-on effect could be if universities, FE colleges and schools themselves.

There are lots of things to consider and those sessions are already happening.”

*Article has been updated as originally stated; “Flintshire council issued guidance last week recommending that all secondary school students wear a face covering when in corridors and in communal areas during break and lunchtimes.”

This was incorrect and should have stated; “Flintshire County Council issued guidance on the use of face coverings last week.”



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