Posted: Mon 15th Jun 2020

Councils “ploughing through” Welsh Government guidance on schools reopening, despite union warnings it isn’t safe.

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Jun 15th, 2020

Councils across North Wales are “ploughing through” Welsh Government guidance on schools reopening, despite union warnings it isn’t safe.

Unison reiterated its opposition to the reopening of schools on June 29, when a staggered return to learning is planned, saying it is too soon.

The union, representing teachers and support staff, says Welsh Government should be aiming for September to get the strategy right.

However education departments across the region are gearing up and preparing for the restart in just over a fortnight.

Unison’s Jonathan Lewis said: “Unison is not prepared to compromise the safety of teaching assistants, cleaners, caterers, caretakers or administrative staff in schools.

“We have considered the operational guidance and there simply doesn’t contain enough detail, particularly within the short time constraints.

“Of course school support staff want to get back to work, but we cannot be expected to take unnecessary risks to fulfil that within a few short weeks.
“Robust planning takes time and cannot be a rushed job.

“We are confident thorough planning could take place over the summer in time for the start of term in September.”

However the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) says it supports a June 29 return, claiming the guidance affords schools flexibility.

A Denbighshire spokesman said the authority is “ploughing through the guidance” to work out what it means for schools, who will communicate directly with parents.

He added: “The Minister has made it clear schools will re-open from this date and we need to ensure schools are ready to open.

“We’ll do all we possibly can to support schools to put those arrangements in place.

“The safety of our children, young people and our staff is of paramount importance.

“We will make sure our arrangements are robust and suitable to allow the safe return of children and young people to our schools.”

A Conwy council spokeswoman said attendance was about “touching base” with students and it would not be “formal education provision”.

She added: “Only a third of pupils will attend school at any one time and this figure is a maximum, not an expectation.

“Schools will decide how many pupils they can safely accommodate and it is voluntary for parents to send children to school.”

Anglesey council’s director of education Rhys Hughes said the authority would “carefully consider” the guidance from Welsh Government but wants “some semblance of normality” to return before the end of summer term.

He added: “There are, of course, many challenges and factors which must be considered.

“We are focusing on these matters corporately with colleagues from various services as well as representatives from both the primary and secondary sectors.

“However, we are also well aware each of our schools faces different needs and challenges; the need to respect differing views amongst parents and concerns amongst teaching unions.”

A spokesman for Gwynedd council said: “Following last week’s announcement from the Education Minister, we have been working with individual schools across the county to develop detailed plans on how they can safely re-open in a phased manner.

“Individual schools will be sharing information with families as soon as possible when details about specific arrangements are confirmed.

“We expect further guidance from the Welsh Government shortly which will help us with our plans for managing facilities and logistical arrangements.

“We will follow this guidance, prioritising the health and wellbeing of our pupils and staff.”

A spokeswoman for Flintshire council said it had been working “closely” with headteachers.

She added: “As a Council, we have close and constructive working relationships with our local representatives of the recognised trade unions, and we have engaged with them at key points during the school closure period.

“Our local union representatives have been kept informed throughout as we support schools to prepare for 29 June.”

Wrexham council was also contacted for comment.

Jez Hemming, Gareth Williams and Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter Service. (more here).

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