Chief Medical Officer would have preferred to open schools in August ‘to give us a little bit more time’
The chief medical officer of Wales (CMO) has said his preference for the reopening of schools would have been August – not the June date announced yesterday.
At yesterday’s daily Welsh Government briefing Education Minister Kirsty Williams confirmed that all year groups will be able to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September” at their schools this summer.
Speaking yesterday the minister confirmed that the next phase of schools will begin on June 29th.
Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.
In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
Kirsty Williams said: “29th June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.
“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.
“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.
However asked at the lunchtime briefing about the decision for children of all year groups returning to school in June, CMO Frank Atherton said his “preferred option would have been to reopen the schools perhaps towards the end of summer in the August, to give us a little bit more time.”
He said: “I understand that was not attractive to the unions, so we’ve got a second best option, which is that we’re going to reopen the schools towards the end of June for a short period of time with very different arrangements so that it can be done safely.
“I think we can do that safely. We do need to monitor it and track it.
“It will be for a limited period of time, that will give us the summer to understand what has happened to the levels of infection.
“It will basically give us more information which is what we need to manage this this this pandemic.”
Yesterday’s announcement also appeared to come as a surprise to teachers and parents – with unions calling for a cautious approach when pupils return back to school.
NEU Cymru said said it was “too much too soon.”
Wales Secretary of the NEU, David Evans said: “The Minister’s statement in which she has opened schools to all year groups with effect from 29 June does not sit well with NEU Cymru.
“It is too much, too soon and whilst splitting year groups into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks may mean that, at most, a third of pupils may be present at any one time, in the larger secondary schools that will mean hundreds of pupils on site with all the logistical difficulties that will bring in respect of social distancing, cleaning of premises, travel implications, availability of PPE and threats of transmission of the virus.
“Whilst primary schools tend to be smaller, it could still lead to a significant number of students being present across all age groups. We know that factors such as social distancing are virtually impossible the younger the child.
“We do not yet know how the track and trace system implemented this week will fare. It is too early to come to conclusions on the success of this vitally needed process. Further the Minister has given no indication as to how her own 5 principles have been satisfied.”
GMB, the union for school support staff is calling on the Welsh Government to ensure that rigorous health and safety checks are applied before staff and children return to schools in Wales.
Nicola Savage, GMB Welsh Education lead said: “We’ve been meeting with the Welsh Government regularly and we’ve made clear that we back a cautious approach. It’s vital that any return to school is accompanied with the proper risk assessments.
“It’s important that the Welsh Government put safety of staff and children first, and so far from our discussions, we’re confident that is forefront at their mind.
“This is a process and over the next few weeks, we’ll be consulting with our members in a series of online meetings to hear and monitor the return to work.
“Our members should be reassured this will not be a dive in at the deep end. We will assist them every step of the way in the journey back to work, ensuring that rigorous Social distancing plus Health and Safety measures are enforced.”
This afternoon the Education Minister started a thread on twitter on the topic, viewable from below…
The decision to enable children to have some time in school ahead of the summer break puts the safety and wellbeing of learners first and foremost and is fully in line with the latest scientific advice.
— Kirsty Williams (@wgmin_education) June 4, 2020
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