Statement by the Minister for Education

TITLE Coronavirus (COVID-19)
DATE 29th April 2020
BY Kirsty Williams AM, Minister for Education

 

I want to start today by thanking our teachers, teaching assistants, childcare workers, lecturers and all the staff involved in education in Wales. I am enormously grateful for the way that everyone has responded to the challenge of this pandemic.

Diolch o galon – you have truly been national heroes.

This is a very challenging time for all of us but I am proud of what we have achieved so far.

Hwb, our online learning platform, provides unparalleled access to a wide range of bilingual digital tools and content.

This means Wales has the perfect platform to keep children and young people safe and learning during the coronavirus lockdown.

Throughout March 2020, usage of Hwb significantly increased with more than 2.8 million logins recorded. And our most recent figures show an average of 150,000 logins a day.

We were one of first countries in the world to secure a national licensing deal with Microsoft.

And thanks to that deal – every single learner and teacher in our state schools has access to the latest Microsoft Office tools, including Minecraft Education Edition, on their personal devices at home.

And in another first for Wales, we have deployed Adobe Spark nationally, the first country in the world to do so. Meaning that more than 500,000 teachers and learners will have access to Adobe Spark for Education.

We have also been working with tech giants such as Google, ensuring that tools like Google Classroom and a range of G Suite for Education tools are available in Welsh.

We shouldn’t underestimate this achievement. Welsh is the second smallest language – in terms of speakers- in which G Suite is available.

Closer to home, we were first UK nation to guarantee free school meals provision until schools re-open or up until the end of August.

With the support of the WLGA, this Government has made £33m available to help local authorities continue to provide free school meals, helping to ensure that no child goes hungry.

Last week I published Stay Safe, Stay Learning. This guidance aims to support everyone involved with education to deal with the impact of coronavirus.

An important element of this is working with local authorities to support digitally excluded learners. I hope to be able make a further announcement on this later this week.

I am confident that we will be able to confirm further plans to recycle existing kit from schools and allocating it to learners who need it, using our EdTech funding.

Of course, one major question for all of us is when will schools return to normal.  I must say that it has been hugely unhelpful to have numerous leaks from Westminster saying contradictory things. That is not the way to instil confidence.

In contrast, earlier this week we published the guiding principles we will be using to determine when and how schools will return to providing education for more pupils, and I have made clear that this would be a phased approach.

While doing this, I have given my assurance that we will communicate any decision well in advance of any required action, ensuring that schools and families can plan ahead.

Turning to Further Education.

Colleges Wales have put measures in place to deal with the pandemic within further education settings. In March, they began a phased approach towards remote and digital learning.

Learners are being supported to continue their studies and work towards completing assignments and courses where possible, with particular emphasis on vulnerable learners who will need additional support.

FE colleges are pivotal to the local economy. I have provided assurances on funding to Colleges Wales to support the sector and maintain stability for institutions and their learners.

Through Universities Wales and HEFCW, we remain in close communication with our universities. I have already confirmed that the moratorium on unconditional offers remains in place in Wales until 1st May.

Having recently provided HEFCW with a provisional indication of the level of funding that may be available to the sector this year, I want to move forward at the right time with a package of measures that gives assurance to students, universities and the wider higher education community.

We have developed resources for Year 13 pupils who are hoping to attend university in the autumn. Resources to help build skills and confidence, and to help them to connect with their universities.

I recognise Universities UK’s point that all four governments should continue to work together on these matters, and that the scale of the challenges goes beyond resources that is available within devolved government budgets.

We are working to ensure a consistent approach to issues such as visa requirements, assessment contingencies, professional body requirements and admissions for the next academic year.

We will continue to work at pace within Welsh Government and with the wider sector in Wales on these issues, but we will also continue to work on a four nations basis on matters such as research and Student Loans Company funding. I hope to move forward on those matters soon.

Situations can change rapidly during this pandemic. I can assure you however, that we will continue to work within and across government, and with our other partners, to provide guidance and advice and to ensure the safety of all our staff and young people.

Thank you – Diolch

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