Teachers “desperate” to have children back in classrooms this week says Education Minister
Children returning to classrooms this week can expect a “very warm welcome” from their teachers, “who are desperate to have them back,” Wales’ education minister has said.
Foundation phase learners in Flintshire – those aged three to seven – will start a phased return to schools from Monday.
Kirsty Williams MS wants parents to be “reassured that head teachers and school staff have been working very hard to prepare a really welcoming environment.”
Speaking to Vaughan Roderick on BBC Radio Wales this morning, the education minister said it will be a “very welcoming environment, staggered over the start of this week so that children are reintroduced to school in a very sensitive manner.”
“Clearly there are still things that we’re going to help children with like regular hand washing, there’ll be regular cleaning of classrooms and lots of outside play, weather permitting.”
“One of the reasons why this group of children need to go back first [is that] Foundation Phase is very difficult to deliver remotely, despite the best efforts of teachers, ”
“Those young children are learning to socialise, learning to interact and they are learning through play.”
“When they go back they will be able to do that in their class bubble supported by professional teachers and teaching assistants.” she said.
Covid rates in Flintshire are slowly falling though the seven day incidence rate per 100,000 population – a key metric – remains the highest in Wales, alongside Anglesey, at 122.
Neighbouring Wrexham, now has a lower incidence rate per 100,000 (95) than Flintshire, the council there has chosen to delay the return of Foundation Phase pupils.
Wrexham council said: “Children will not be returning to schools until Friday, February 26 at the very earliest.”
Kirsty Williams said: “We know that these children are least likely to suffer from Covid, therefore less likely to pass it on to somebody else.”
“So from an epidemiology point of view, it’s the right cohort to have back, from an educational point of view, it’s the right place to start.”
On Friday, first minister Mark Drakeford said all primary school children and some secondary school pupils could be back in the classroom from March 15 if Covid cases continue to fall.
He said: “As coronavirus cases fall, and our successful vaccination programme protects more people every day, there are reasons to be optimistic.
“If the situation continues to improve over the next three weeks, we hope more primary school children and older students will be able to return from 15 March.
Laura Doel, director of the teaching union NAHT Cymru, said the Welsh government is right to say that it is considering a return for KS2 and some secondary pupils only “if the public health situation continues to improve. This absolutely has to be the case.”
“We need to be able to assess the impact of the foundation phase return before making any firm commitments.”
She said: “It is important that we continue to be guided by the science rather than getting stuck on one particular arbitrary date. ”
“We all want to see all children back in school as soon as it is safe, but that return has to be sustainable, with a proper plan to minimise continued disruption to children’s education going forward.”
The education minister said: “If the public health situation continues to develop, as it has been doing since the lockdown in December, then I am confident as I can be that we will be able to return more children to face to face learning on the 15th of March.”
But she warned parents not “to misinterpret this as sign that things are back to normal.”
She said: “Schools are highly regulated settings, school staff are working really hard to make them as COVID secure as they can be.”
“But it is behavior around school, on the journey to school, at the school gate, on your way home and at the weekend that will help us keep the public health situation improving, which will allow more children to go back.
“This is not to return to sleep overs or birthday parties, we really need people to carry on doing what they have been doing to help us create the headroom that will allow more children to go back from the 15th of March.”
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