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Education

Schools to stay closed in Wales as coronavirus situation worsens

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THE WELSH GOVERNMENT, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has just agreed that all schools and colleges will move to online learning until January 18.

The Welsh Government says it will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to best plan for the rest of term.

In a statement education minister Kirsty Williams said: “This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.

“Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments.

“We had already ensured that schools had full flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.

Reacting to the announcement, Suzy Davies MS – the Shadow Minister for Education – said: “With many children having been due to begin a ‘staggered’ return to school from Wednesday onwards, this news has come late for them and for their parents.”

The closure will affect all primary and secondary schools, and additional learning needs (ALN) bases will remain open “if possible”.

However, schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments

Welsh Conservative Mrs Davies continued: “Because of the planned staggered return, we were told that teachers were preparing online, blended learning. I hope, and I’m sure all parents and pupils feel the same, that these systems can be adapted for this full closure.

“What parents, pupils, and teachers across Wales need is reassurance from the Minister as to what conditions must be met for schools to re-open, because while a prudent measure, to read that the next two weeks will be used to plan for ‘… rest of term’ offers little reassurance.

“This announcement, however, reinforces our calls for teachers to be prioritised to receive the new vaccine, because this virus has damaged our young learners’ education enough.”

Laura Doel, Director of NAHT Cymru, the Welsh school leaders’ union said: “The decision to close schools to gain control of Coronavirus has been inevitable for some time. The announcement this evening will bring some much-needed clarity to the situation.

“Besides parents and carers there is no one more committed to the education and welfare of children at school than school leaders and their teams. NAHT Cymru members want children back in school as soon as possible and the restricted attendance from tomorrow should be used to organise an orderly and sustainable return.

“The Welsh Government has repeatedly said it wants to prioritise education, in that case it must also prioritise safety in schools and the communities schools serve.

“Work should be undertaken with school leaders and Public Health Wales to establish and agree new Covid-related safety measures in schools during the temporary restriction for implementation in good time prior to lifting restrictions.

“There needs to focus on vaccinating staff so that further disruption to teaching and learning can be ruled out.

“Welsh Government must also urgently review its approach to special schools given the statement that states special schools should remain open if possible. This once again demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the complexities faced in special schools in keeping covid restrictions in place.

“It is uncertain whether the next two weeks will be enough time to ensure a fully risk-assessed plan is put in place to facilitate the safe return with a properly organised and resourced testing regime and priority vaccinations for staff, but I know that NAHT Cymru members stand ready to work with the government for the good of all children. For its part the government should be prepared to work directly with leaders from every phase and sector of education.”

 

FULL WRITTEN STATEMENT
Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education

The situation in Wales and across the UK remains very serious. Today, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed that the UK is now at the highest level of risk, Joint Biosecurity Council level 5.

In the light of that decision the Welsh Government, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has agreed that all schools, colleges and independent schools should move to online learning until January 18th.

As a government we will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the rest of term.

This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.

Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments. On this basis Special Schools and PRU’s should remain open if possible.

We had initially given schools flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.

But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the first fortnight of term is the best way forward.

We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic.

However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.

We are confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place for this immediate period,

Universities in Wales have already agreed a staggered start to term. Students should not return to universities for face to face learning until they are notified that they can do so.

Wales remains in the highest level of restrictions. Everyone must stay at home.

I will continue to update members.

This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Education

Teacher’s gruelling challenge to help visually impaired child

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TEACHER Sion Jenkins is running 100 laps around a famous Pembrokeshire landmark to raise money to help a visually impaired child in his class.

He is aiming to raise £2,000 on crowd funder platform Go Fund Me by doing laps of Carew Castle and Mill in just 24 hours, about one hundred miles in total.

Sion said: “I decided that I wanted to raise money to help purchase a trike/adapted bike to help a visually impaired child in my class.

“Due to his sight, he isn’t able to ride a bike – and is desperate to gain some independence/confidence and ride a bike like every other child.

“On the back of a challenge set by school, to complete the ‘100 challenge’ as a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore, I decided to tie the two together and have a go at completing this gruelling challenge.

“100 laps of Carew Castle and Mill will total just under 100 miles – in less than 24 hours.”

If you would like to contribute to this epic challenge this is the link:

https://uk.gofundme.com/f/carew-mill-100-laps-in-24-hours?

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Education

Schools partnership promotes the benefits of outdoor learning

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OUTDOOR learning across the county has received a welcome boost over the past 12 months as a result of additional funding secured by the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools (PODS) project, which has covered the cost of a Co-ordinator working directly with schools.

Thanks to financial backing from the People’s Postcode Local Trust and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust, the PODS Co-ordinator has been able to help with the delivery of high quality, curriculum-linked learning experiences in school grounds and local outdoor spaces.

Part of the Co-ordinator’s role is also to bring together local and national organisations, including Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Discovery team, teachers and head teachers. Pooling their diverse knowledge and expertise, the partnership seeks to share good practice and promote the benefits of taking lessons outdoors.

Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools Co-ordinator Bryony Rees said: “Last summer, the Welsh Government recognised the importance of outdoor learning in the post-lockdown return to school. We have been working hard to support this by giving children and teachers increased opportunities to take their learning outdoors.

“We have already engaged with a number of schools across Pembrokeshire and produced some live webinars. Supporting resources for these can be found on HWB. This has made it possible to reach out to even more schools with practical information, inspiration and advice on delivering outdoor learning programmes.

“Several schools have taken the opportunity to develop their school grounds to support outdoor learning and more recently, Neyland Community School has introduced outdoor lessons every Friday.”

During the most recent lockdown, work has continued online and the PODS website has been developed to provide teachers with some learning resources. Outdoor learning ideas and inspiration for teachers and parents are also shared on the PODS Facebook page (Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools) and on Twitter @PembsOutdoorSch.

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