Today (9th July 2020) Kirsty Williams, Welsh Education Minister announced that its now expected that all children in Wales should return to school with limited social distancing in place this September.
At the daily briefing Kirsty Williams has made it very clear that from the 1st September 2020 all schools that can accept all children back, should.
Kirsty started off by referencing information from a document published on 7th July 2020 from the Technical Advisory Group on advice on return to school, which reads –
“The Welsh Technical Advisory Group recommends that schools in Wales plan to open in September with 100% of pupils physically present on school sites, subject to a continuing, steady decline in the presence of COVID-19 in the community, and appropriate measures to protect staff and children”
Kirsty Williams went on to say that Schools will return from 1st September at full capacity “with limited social distancing within contact groups, at full operation a contact group should consist of approximately 30 children”
She added that “Some direct or indirect mixing of children in different contact groups will also be unavoidable but social distancing for adults should remain inline with regulations and guidance”
From September this will means that children will be asked to not follow the social distancing regulation and guidelines whilst in school, but Kirsty Williams did mention that schools will be required to minimise the risks of transmission where they can, such as carrying out risk assessments, having one way systems and having good hand and surface hygiene.
Our Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams made a point of reminding us that her priority throughout this Covid-19 outbreak has been “To provide maximum learning with minimal disruption for our younger people and to happen in a safe and sensible way”
Kirsty Williams confirmed that “It would be disingenuous for me to stand here today and to say that the reopening of schools is a zero risk proposition. This would simply not be the case”
She added “Every time the Welsh Government takes a decision to take another step our of lockdown that comes with risks attached to it”
However, she went on to say that she knows that it is natural for parents to be concerned but she has listened to the advice from the Welsh Technical Advisory Group.
Kirsty also said that “parents can be confident to send kids in as they have now had experience of how kids can operate in schools in a safe and secure way” although some schools at the minute are operating much smaller classrooms with some only having 4 pupils in them, so it’s a bit different to having 30 plus back at once as proposed for this September.
Anyone can read the 8 page Technical Advisory Group document on advice on return to school in Full Here
It talks about reviewing the balance of benefit and burden about return to school for children and that they feel it would be better for wellbeing to relax measures. But equally it acknowledges “There is a real risk that school and societal restrictions might need to be imposed again.” As “There is limited room for relaxing social distancing /grouping measures overall given current transmission and incidence rates.”
The document confirms that “There remains some on-going uncertainty in transmissibility of the disease by children”
However that “Transmissibility in children under the age of 12 seems to be particularly low, and this leads us to feel able to recommend that these children can be Covid Secure using more flexible controls than the 2m distance, such as seating facing in the same direction.”
It also reassures readers that once children are Infected with Coronavirus it “appears to take a milder course in children than in adults: most infected children present with mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and very few develop severe or life threatening disease”
It does make specific reference to Secondary School aged children saying “Secondary age children are likely to need to reduce overall daily contacts by 40-60% to maintain Covid-19 security. This could be achieved by 2m social distancing and/ or maintaining class ‘Covid Secure groups’ with avoidance of mixing (additional data awaited). Average approx. 20 daily contacts age 11-20, 50% reduction indicates max group size of around 10.”
So, children of Secondary School Age children might find that their child’s school doesn’t increase classes to the proposed 30 pupil classes, instead opting to follow the scientific advice in this document. Kirsty Williams did mention that all parents should look to stay in contact with their own child’s school updates for specific information.
If a pupil or staff member test positive for Covid-19 the school will not necessarily close again. Kirsty confirmed that this information would be passed onto the Test, Track and Trace Programmed and that they would do risk assessments.
It would be wished that the school does not close unless absolutely necessary, however the schools will all be expected to have a back up plan just in case learning is disrupted.
Rather than closing the school again they might look instead at stopping school transport, or just lowering the number of children in a class at one time for a bit or for a whole school year to be home-schooled for a short time.
Today (9th July 2020) Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams also confirmed that the Welsh Government will provide an additional £29 million funding to support this decision today that all schools in Wales in September should return at a full operational level.
This additional money will be given to local authorities to spend and it is equivalent to the cost of 600 extra teachers and 300 extra teaching assistants for the whole of the academic year 2020 / 2021.
It’s hoped that this will allow some extra support to pupils in year 11, 12 and 13 and the disadvantaged and vulnerable learners in all year groups.
This support package will be provided at a school level and could include things like extra couching support, personalised learning programmes and additional time and resources for exam level pupils.
Kirsty said she “Feels that this extra investment and targeted support will ensure that the impact of the time away from school over recent months is minimised” adding that “Unions have welcomed the news of investment”
At the end of the Technical Advisory Group document published on 7th July 2020 offering advice on return to school to the Welsh Government it includes information from elsewhere in the UK including information from the SAGE advisory group, Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Government.
It also makes reference to what other countries around the UK are planning to do for their pupils come September and it looks like Wales are possibly going to do things a little different, for example:
In Scotland schools will open as they normally do in August as they have different holiday dates to Wales.
Their plans based on their Scientific evidence on schools and ELC settings initially proposed it would follow a combination of in-school and home learning and covid secure environments including 2m social distancing between individuals or small cohorts with limited contacts.
A subsequent announcement indicated that a full return to school with no social distancing required for under 12s/junior school age children would be expected from August 2020, assuming low infection rates in the community.
As yet though no evidence paper has been published to support this change. So, its all a bit up in the air still.
In Northern Ireland schools will start on 24 August 2020 for Primary 7, years 12 and 14, all vulnerable children, with all other children returning as usual when the September term starts.
They are panning a blended learning approach, with at least 40% face-to-face time in primary and 30% face-to-face post primary.
Pre-school children will not be expected to social distance, all children up to year 14 will observe 1m social distance, with ‘protective bubbles’ where possible, although no maximum size has been stated.
Adults will observe 2m between adults or children.
Initially No – Kirsty Williams said “We want children back in September. Initially, we will not be imposing fines on parents that choose not to send children back, but we will be expecting schools to reach out to those parents and discuss any concerns”
She added that the “Policy will be kept under review and at some stage we may indeed return to the situation pre covid where fines will be issued to parents who don’t send their children into school and keep them at home without a good reason to do so”