Union says new Welsh government guidance on Covid safety measures in Schools is ‘contradictory and confusing’
The Welsh Government has published a framework on how schools and other education settings can make their sites safe when children and staff return following the summer break.
The framework sets out arrangements for the delivery of teaching and enables schools and education settings to “tailor interventions to reflect local risks and circumstances.”
A school leaders union has called the new framework ‘contradictory and confusing’.
The framework consists of core measures that should be in place, “regardless of the risk level” minister for education Jermey Miles said in a statement,
He said there are also be variable measures “that may be tailored to reflect the level of risk identified.”
“They will be supported by public health officials and local authorities to ensure measures are appropriate to their circumstances.”
Mr Miles said: “The approach set out in the Frameworks should be adopted as soon as possible after the start of term, and by 20 September 2021 at the latest.”
He added: “Local authorities will be discussing with schools over the coming weeks how this approach will be embedded into their operational arrangements, ensuring that staff, learners and the wider education community understand the measures in place in their school.”
Commenting on the updated guidance on Friday, Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union, NAHT Cymru, said: “We welcome the fact that schools have until 20 September to transition to the new framework.”
“It is the transition period we called for to ensure school teams were not expected to work on planning the logistics during the summer holiday – which came at the end of an intensive 16 months with hardly a break for them.”
“However, there are elements of the framework that are contradictory and likely to lead to confusion.”
“Stating that operations should return to ‘business as usual’ seems out of step, given that Covid-19 cases are rising and the First Minister says he won’t rule out further restrictions coming back into place.”
“Vaccination take-up in Wales is high, but it won’t stop people getting Covid and it won’t stop teachers and learners having to take time away from the classroom if they contract the virus.”
“We don’t want unnecessary measures in place for the sake of it, but there must be a balance with protecting school staff and learners to ensure the return to school is sustainable.”
“We fail to see how school leaders are going to pick up this framework and know what to do, which will leave us once again turning to local authorities for support in establishing local authority-wide approaches to give some level of consistency and support to schools.”
Laura said: “The framework states that Wales is at low risk, yet two days ago the Welsh Government instructed schools to continue with lateral flow testing on secondary pupils and all school staff.”
“According to today’s framework, that is a practice for when we are at high risk. ”
“Also, where today’s advice refers to rising hospital admissions and the seven-day rolling incidence of infection, that appears to put us in the moderate risk category.”
“Added to this, there is a lack of differentiation between the measures to take, depending on the risk level. When we are talking about risk, when we are planning for what we want to be a sustainable return, we must be absolutely clear of the risk level. We don’t feel this is clear enough.
“Where someone tests positive for Covid, it will be the responsibility of Test, Trace and Protect to contact that individual, identify close contacts and get in touch with them to advise on PCR tests and to advise on action such as to self-isolate.”
“Suggesting seating plans for learners and identifying friendship groups is unworkable and we have made this point time and time again. ”
“It’s the reason why contact groups were originally put in place because it is impossible to manage learners any other way.”
“Gone are the days when children sit at desks all day, particularly in primary schools, that’s not the way teaching and learning is delivered.”
“To put in those measures would absolutely have a detrimental impact on learners, far more than contact groups would.”
“We remain to be convinced that the ‘warn and inform’ approach is accurate and reliable.”
Opposition parties have their say.
Welsh conservatives accused the Welsh government of “putting more unnecessary pressure on teachers.” by publishing their coronavirus infection control plan with less than two weeks to go until schools return.
A Welsh Conservative spokesperson said: “There are many points in this new plan that are welcome, but the release of the framework is astonishingly poorly-timed with schools returning in a little under two weeks’ time.
“How on earth can teachers, who are already lesson planning for the upcoming academic year, be expected to digest the detail of the framework and put measures in place in such a short period of time?
“Labour ministers should have – and could have – published this document much earlier in the summer so schools knew exactly what was expected of them.”
Welsh Conservatives have also raised concern over a major contradiction between a recent Welsh Government statement and the framework.
On August 25, a Welsh Government announcement said that staff and learners in secondary schools and colleges, who are not showing symptoms should take regular rapid lateral flow tests twice a week.
But the framework, published two days later, said that in the ‘low risk’ category, which Wales is currently in, there should be “little or no” testing, and that there should be “targeted/focused” testing at ‘medium risk’ level.
The spokesperson added: “Either Labour’s education minister made the quickest U-turn in history, or there is a lack of communication within the Welsh Government.
“To us, the best way to prevent large outbreaks of coronavirus at schools and colleges, and avoid major disruption to learning, would be to ensure that there is a regular testing system to identify cases before the virus spreads throughout the classroom.
“We need to see some clarity from the education minister, who should come out and address the situation.”
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Education, Sian Gwenllian MS said: “Schools need practical and financial support in keeping our children safe.”
She said the “government guidance underlines the importance of vaccines in protecting schools from coronavirus infections. ”
“But when the vast majority of school children are ineligible for the vaccine, and schools are due to return at a time when coronavirus is once against spreading freely in our communities, it’s impractical to work on the assumption that infection can be kept out of our schools.”
“What Welsh Government must do is give schools practical and financial support in helping to limit transmission.”
“One of the most effective ways is to bring in fresh air into classrooms, but today’s guidance mentions nothing about how schools are meant to monitor air quality, it issues no advice about encouraging children to wear warm clothes during school hours, nor does it say what schools are to do with classrooms where it may be impossible to open windows because of their poor condition or if they are painted shut!”
“It’s imperative that we use all the tools available to us to help keep our children safe, and I urge Welsh Government to issue CO2 monitors to all educational settings so that air quality can be monitored.”
“They must also provide practical guidance for educational settings to maintain both good ventilation and learner comfort in what will soon be our coldest season.”
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com