Schools in Wales will return at the end of June – Pupils will be given opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September“
All children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.
It is proposed that all schools will reopen on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.
Welsh Government have said pupils are expected to attend school. However, families will not be fined if they do not send their children to school this term. Children and teachers who are shielding or at more risk, including pregnant workers, are not expected to return this term. This also applies for pupils and teachers who live with relatives who are shielding.
In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is 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.
There will be much smaller classes, which Welsh Government say will “provide secure dedicated time” with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.
Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.
The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.
Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.
Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.
Kirsty Williams said: “My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.
“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.
“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.
“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.
“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.
“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.
“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.
“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”
Responding to the Education Minister statement, Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, said:
“Of the options proposed by Welsh government, a return to school on 29 June extending the summer term by a week and redistributing into the Autumn term is our members’ preferred plan. There are some concerns around the practicalities that still need to be addressed. But school leaders are keen to support learners and get them back into school safely.
“The government’s intention is to get all children in is more problematic. This was against the views of our members who favoured prioritising specific year groups. School leaders have concerns about the logistics of getting every child into school on a staggered basis, especially given the very limited timescale to make this happen.
But we appreciate it’s acknowledged that a cap on overall numbers will need to be applied and that the schools will need to be allowed flexibility to achieve this over time and not overnight.
“We will be seeking further discussions with Welsh government on the flexibilities, practicalities and guidance that will be needed to support schools in implementing wider reopening plans.”
UCAC education union has responded robustly to today’s announcement by the Minister for Education that schools in Wales will re-open step-by-step for all pupils from 29 June.
Dilwyn Roberts-Young, UCAC General Secretary said “Education unions have been in regular discussions with Welsh Government since the beginning of this emergency, including about reopening schools. In partnership, the profession has put provision in place in a heroic manner for pupils across Wales during this period of disruption.
“However, we are shocked that the Government has ignored the unions’ opinion that Years 6, 10 and 12 should have taken priority if schools were to reopen before the summer.
“The practical considerations involved in dealing with the return of even a small number of pupils before the summer are incredibly complex – not to mention attempting to give every pupil the opportunity to return. Creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere, whilst ensuring an environment that is as safe as possible for everyone is an enormous challenge.
“We are fully aware of the possible benefits to pupils of a pre-summer return. However, the potential benefits must be balanced against the risks – to the pupils themselves, to staff and the school community more generally.
“It’s very simple: the more pupils who return, the greater the risk.
“And in attempting to provide for all pupils, it will be harder to ensure the level of provision needed for those priority groups in Years 6, 10 and 12.
“We know that there will be extremely high levels of anxiety amongst teachers and school leaders in response to today’s announcement.
“We will be emphasising our members’ concerns in the strongest terms, in writing and in meetings with Welsh Government.”
Hawarden High School headteacher Simon Budgen said: “Welsh Government have announced that schools in Wales will begin a partial re-opening from 29th June. However, individual schools will take differing approaches as to how they manage this.
As we have not had any advance notice of these announcements, we shall await to see the practical guidance which will be published next week. I shall write to parents with further details at that time.”
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