Education Minister pressed on September school plans

(Title Image: Senedd Research Service)

Announcement “expected later this week” on September school reopening

Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies MS (Con, South Wales West), congratulated schools, staff and local authorities for arranging the three/four-week catch-up period before the summer holidays.

All eyes are now on what happens at the start of the autumn term, with a petition recently launched calling for a full reopening of schools in September. She said draft guidance based on transmission rates of Covid-19 was already in circulation, though the Minister responded by saying she didn’t want to be overtaken by events before making a final decision:

“I think it’s really important that we build confidence amongst staff and parents that we are acting on the very latest scientific advice. Throughout this process, we have said that our aim would be to maximise face-to-face contact for our children and to minimise disruption, and I know that schools have prepared operational guidance for a range of scenarios, and those plans will have to be kept under review regardless of what statement I’m able to make by the end of this week because how the disease behaves in our community is key to unlocking educational opportunities for children.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor)

The Minister went on to say that “blended learning” (a mix on in-person and online teaching) was likely to remain a feature for some time to come. Acknowledging that some schools have been able to deal with this better than others, additional training and advice was being prepared to share the best ways of doing it with school staff across Wales.

Preventing a wider attainment gap a priority from September

Also focusing on the September school plans, Sian Gwenllian MS (Plaid, Arfon) asked what would be done to ensure the pandemic lockdown doesn’t widen the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students?

“Plaid Cymru did publish a plan some weeks ago that would include employing more teachers, attracting recently-retired teachers back into schools. So, what will your aim be for children and young people who haven’t been supported during the pandemic, those that are most disadvantaged and therefore the greatest challenge? What exactly are your plans for that cohort of children?”
– Sian Gwenllian MS

The Minister told the Senedd that the expected Barnett Formula consequential as a result of English school catch-up programme is expected to be just £30million, with the rest coming in the new financial year and unavailable at this time.

She went on to say that different children will be impacted in different ways; some will simply need to catch up on curriculum content, while others may have emotional and mental health issues they need to work through as a consequence of the pandemic (i.e. bereavement or witnessing serious illness).

One of the main barriers, however, is digital exclusion:

“….those children that….don’t either have a device, a suitable device, or indeed connectivity at home. That’s why we’ve spent £3 million on trying to address that situation. I’m very grateful to colleagues in local government, who have worked in partnership with us, to give out over 10,000 pieces of equipment, and over 10,000 MiFi devices. Again, this is a record I think we can be proud of in Wales, compared to the ability to get kit out of the door in other nations, where they have struggled to do so.”
– Education Minister, Kirsty Williams

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