Coronavirus: Fears some pupils will miss out over school changes

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One head teacher said schools would look very different and pupils needed to see the classrooms before September

There are fears some of Wales’ most vulnerable children will not be seen by teachers after a row means some schools will only reopen for three weeks.

On Monday, June 29, children will start heading back to the classroom for a “check in” before the summer break.

But some councils will not extend the summer term by a week, after contract talks with unions, local authorities and the Welsh Government stalled.

One headteacher said it would leave children vulnerable over the holidays.

Kerina Hanson, vice-president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said many teachers would be “feeling they made a promise to parents and now we are breaking that promise”.

Meanwhile the Welsh Conservatives criticised the Welsh Government saying the decision on whether to extend term-time had been “pushed on councils, forcing them to take the heat”.

  • How will schools in Wales reopen?
  • Which schools are reopening for pupils?

Schools have been open throughout the coronavirus lockdown, but only for pupils classed as vulnerable and for children of key workers.

On 29 June, a phased return to the classroom will start, but with smaller classes, staggered starts, and breaks, it is thought it will take some time for all pupils to go back.

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There are concerns that it will take a long time for teachers to see all pupils due to the staggered return

Education Minister Kirsty Williams had said that all children would have the opportunity to “check in, catch up, prepare for summer and September”, and had hoped to extend the summer term by a week to give schools time.

But there has been an ongoing negotiations between some unions, the Welsh Government and education authorities over the plans.

Concerns had been raised that contract issues meant there would not be enough support staff available – including cleaners and teaching assistants – to enable schools to remain open for the extra week.

A number of local authorities, who are in charge of schools, have now said they will not extend term, including Cardiff, Newport, Monmouthshire, Caerphilly, Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent, where schools will finish on the original end of term 17 July date.

So far, only Conwy has confirmed its schools will return for four weeks. While Rhondda Cynon Taf council has emailed head teachers stating it is minded to open for the fourth week and asking which staff would like to volunteer to work.

Meanwhile in Anglesey, schools will not reopen on 29 June, after a coronavirus outbreak at a food factory.

‘We feel like we have broken our promise’

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Kerina Hanson, head teacher of a school in Swansea, said teachers were very concerned about children who may have become vulnerable during lockdown.

She said keeping schools open for an extra week would give time for all pupils – whose parents choose to send them in – to get into the classroom.

“We have seen the most vulnerable, we have been able to keep in touch with those, but we are just very concerned about those children that may have become vulnerable over the last few months,” she said.

“We really feel this would have been a fantastic time for us ensure we could have caught up with all children, this was a wellbeing catch up and a chance for all children to return to school to see what it would look like when they come back in September.

“I think many of us will be feeling that we have made a promise to parents, and now schools are going back, and now we are going to be breaking that promise, because those last few days will not be there for all children.”

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“It’s frustrating,” says father-of-three Chris Lawrence

Cardiff parent Chris Lawrence said the latest developments had been “frustrating”.

The father of three boys said “it was a surprise” to receive a text message on Friday evening telling him his children would not be going to school for the fourth week.

“The challenge is we were building up for the four weeks,” he said.

“As a parent you try to plan as far ahead as possible with your children, at a time of uncertainty such as this.

“We were gearing up for a long summer holiday – obviously it’s a now going to be a week longer.”

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Suzy Davies said the Welsh Government had forced the decision on local authorities

The Welsh Conservatives criticised ministers saying the decision had been “pushed on councils, forcing them to take the heat”.

The Tories’ education spokesperson Suzy Davies MS accused the Welsh Government of “dither and delay” over the plans.

“Either it is important for our children to get four weeks access to schools or it’s not,” she said.

“That’s the Welsh Government’s call and families’ choice.”

She added: “Instead of making the tough decisions and giving some leadership to schools, parents and students the Welsh Government has pushed this decision onto councils, forcing them to take the heat.”

The Welsh Government said: “As the Conservatives know, local authorities employ staff and we acknowledge it is ultimately for them to decide on whether schools will reopen for three weeks, rather than four.

“While we continue to recommend four weeks of ‘check in, catch up and prepare’, we acknowledge that ultimately this is a decision for local authorities, who are the employers of school staff.”

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