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Education

Covid cases spike in schools

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FOLLOWING a surge in Covid-19 cases in schools and significant strain on the TTP system, the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru (NAHT), has sent a letter to health minister Eluned Morgan asking her to step in.

The letter, which was copied to education minister Jeremy Miles, coincided with discussions with the Welsh Government, calling once again for school mitigation measures to be reviewed.

In the week ending September 24, 9,428 cases have been reported among under-20s in Wales. The vast majority of these are in people aged 10-19.

1.9% (around 1 in 50) of that entire age group has tested positive in the last week. That is 2,424 more than the previous week and over 3 times more than the peak in December 2020 which prompted an early end to a school term and prompted school closures in January 2021.

The problem is particularly acute In school-aged children, in whom infections have sharply risen since the abandonment of previous measures to keep schools safe.

Those measures included mask-wearing in class, a measure abandoned at the start of the current school term to ‘normalise’ education.

Although the new rules are designed to minimise disruption to education, education is being disrupted by children catching Covid.

It follows those current methods to curb Covid infections among schoolchildren are either incomplete or ineffective, as demonstrated by the massive spike in infections among the young.

Just before the start of the current school term, the Welsh Government announced a package of funding to ensure schools remained safe places for children. The increased rate of infections since the start of the term speaks to that funding’s late delivery and lack of success.

With schools a significant vector for spreading the virus and nobody wanting a return to lockdown and online learning, palatable solutions to the problem of Covid’s spread in schools are limited. The answers boil down to bringing back the rules from the last summer term and the hoped-for success of the vaccination programme for those aged 12 and over.

Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said: “Much of Wales is currently seeing very high rates of Covid-19 infection, with parts of South Wales the highest in the UK, and this is inevitably having a huge knock-on impact in our schools.

“Many are reporting higher levels of student absence than they suffered at any point in the pandemic, and this is being exacerbated by staff absences and a resulting chronic shortage of supply staff to provide cover.

“Many heads are reporting they have had to return to frontline teaching to ensure lessons take place and are having to work long into the night to carry out their leadership duties. This is exhausting and unsustainable for them.

“We warned before students returned for the autumn term that the Welsh government’s contingency guidance was inadequate, vague and open to interpretation and the situation has unravelled spectacularly in a matter of a few weeks as a result.

“The promised vaccinations programme for 12 to 15-year-olds is potentially the way that we can stem the inexorable rise in cases in our schools, but the government has not given a timescale for when this might start or details of how it will work in practice.

“With every passing day, confidence among leaders and teachers that it will be achieved by the October half-term is nosediving.

“Schools need decisive and strong leadership from the government to calm very real fears that the situation in Wales is getting out of hand.

“They need firm guidance on when the vaccination programme will start and how and where students will get their jabs and we would also like to see other measures such as a public information campaign to encourage students to take home tests and government funding for high-quality ventilation systems in schools.”

Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru, said: “There has been a lack of urgent action by the Welsh government to set in motion a plan after the clear failure of the TTP system. We can’t allow this situation to continue to interrupt the continuity of education for our learners.”

In the letter, Laura Doel said: “NAHT Cymru is receiving reports of no contact at all with TTP, despite having several cases in schools; contradictory advice like telling some siblings/children of positive cases to self-isolate and not others; contact tracers telling parents to ask the school for advice on whether siblings should come into school.

“A number of LAs have now told schools not to wait for TTP before sending out ‘warn and inform’ letters because the system is at capacity. There are also contradictions on close contacts going for PCR tests because our members are being told that the system cannot keep up with demand.

“NAHT Cymru has already shared our concerns about the framework not being robust enough to support schools before there were the widespread issues with TTP.

“TTP is a vital mechanism in keeping schools open. NAHT Cymru requests that an urgent review of the situation be undertaken.

“If TTP is unable to support schools then I request that health and education officials come back to the table with the employers and trade unions and discuss reviewing the current framework which is predicated on a functioning TTP system.

“It is unacceptable that school leaders are having to take on this function.

“NAHT Cymru wants nothing more than for schools to stay open, but our members need your help.”

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Education

Schools gearing up for Shwmae Day

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THE Criw Cymraeg (Welsh Crew) at our schools in Pembrokeshire have been busy preparing a whole host of exciting activities to celebrate ‘Shwmae Day’ today! (Friday, October the 15th). 

Shwmae Day is a celebration of the Welsh language and all things Welsh. Seren and Sbarc (the Welsh Language Charter mascots) are asking children to dress as Welsh superheroes or in their best red, white and green outfits to celebrate the day and kick start their Language Charter journey this year.

Bro Ingli Welsh Crew (pictured) have organised several activities for Shwmae Day. Every child and even the staff will come to school dressed in a Welsh cape like Seren and Sbarc. The Criw Cymraeg have arranged a competition between each year for one winner to win a specially designed Seren a Sbarc water bottle. Parents will have the opportunity to have a cup of tea and Welsh cakes when dropping off their children at school in the morning and having a Welsh conversation with the Criw Cymraeg or even being taught a few phrases! The donations will be given to the Wales Air Ambulance. The Criw Cymraeg have also arranged with the kitchen for everyone to have Welsh soup and Welsh cakes for lunch.

Roch School are also dressing up as superheroes. Their Criw Cyrmaeg have arranged lots of exciting activities throughout the day for children to use their Welsh skills from crafts, mocktail making, listening to Welsh music and quizzes to teddy bear picnics. Children will have an extra surprise as they host some special superheroes at their picnic who will join them playing Welsh language games in the playground and sharing a sandwich at the teddy bear picnic.

Scores of teams have also registered for the Big Welsh ‘Dim Clem’ quiz hosted by Menter Iaith Sir Benfro for our English medium primaries. We’ll see which school will be crowned the winner!

And finally, to top off the excitement, all schools will have access to an online gig by Welsh artist Gwilym Bowen Rhys to enjoy during the day.

“What a fantastic effort by our schools to celebrate the Welsh language and to kickstart their Language Charter journey,” said Cllr Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Welsh Language. “I wish everybody a great, fun-filled day.” 

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Education

Shwmae ‘rocks’ project in the lead-up to Shwmae Day

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TO mark Shwmae Day this year, Pembrokeshire County Council and Menter Iaith Sir Benfro have come together to create a Shwmae rock trail for learners and their families to help explore their ‘cynefin’. 

Cynefin, pronounced “ku-nev-in” is a Welsh word that doesn’t have a direct English translation but is used to describe a place or habitat where people feel they belong.

Families have had the opportunity to visit fifteen historic locations in Pembrokeshire to search for special Shwmae stones which mark Shwmae Day. Shwmae Day is a celebration of the Welsh language and is celebrated annually on October 15. As such, the Welsh language mascots – Seren and Sbarc, have hidden 15 stones especially designed by Hedydd Hughes around the county at interesting places in Pembrokeshire’s history.

Catrin Phillips, one of the organisers, said: “This has been a great opportunity for everyone of all ages to get around our beautiful county and learn some of the rich history of the area and of course having a selfie!”. 

Catrin added that all the locations are also featured on a beautifully illustrated map of Pembrokeshire by Hedydd Hughes which was commisioned for learners in Pembrokeshire to discover more about our county’s fantastic legends, brave heroes and rich history. Learners can enjoy exploring the map on their school wall or by using the interactive version on www.ygromlech.co.uk

Dozens of families have already enjoyed searching for the stones and learning about Pembrokeshire. Visit www.facebook.com/shwmae to see the locations they’ve been enjoying and for clues and competition details so that you can also take a ‘Pembrokeshire Shwmae’ selfie!

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Education

Launch of Month-Long Crucial Crew

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PARTNER AGENCIES gathered at South Hook LNG recently, for the launch of what will be a month-long safety campaign with local schools, during November.

Working in partnership with the financial support of South Hook, Pembrokeshire County Council is once again bringing together teams from Road Safety, School Transport, Domestic Abuse Services, Food Safety/ Food Standards Agency, Dyfed Powys Police, Mid and West Wales Fire Service, Welsh Ambulance Services, RNLI, Western Power and Network Rail, providing focused safety learnings to around 1400 of our County’s school children.

Being held via video learning for the second year, schools are being encouraged to include Crucial Crew in classroom discussions, throughout November. Films from each of the Agencies provide valuable safety messages, for a range of situations in which youngsters may find themselves; from first aid and bus safety to staying safe online and whist in the vicinity of railway tracks. A visit will be arranged for each school from a partner agency in the month of November to support their learning.

“Safety is our priority in everything that we do at the Terminal, so South Hook is proud to be a long-time supporter of Crucial Crew and the important safety education that it brings to so many local young students each year” commented Hamad Al Samra, General Manager at south Hook LNG Terminal.

As part of this year’s Crucial Crew, a competition will also be launched, asking children to design a poster, highlighting some of their memorable safety learnings. Prizes will be given to both the students and the school, with the poster being used for launch of the 2022 Crucial Crew event.

County Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, Licensing and Major Events said “Pembrokeshire County Council is very proud to be a partner of Crucial Crew. We are saddened that once again we are unable once teach the pupils face to face, but grateful that through the HWB platform the partners are able to share their essential safety messages to local students throughout Pembrokeshire.”

He added “The Crucial Crew 2021 event, would not be possible without the dedication of the agencies and their staff, school staff and the continued support of South Hook LNG- which we are very thankful for.’”

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