Update on education provision

 

TITLE Update on Education Provision
DATE 3 June 2020
BY Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education

 

Almost all learners will have the opportunity to attend their school. I am describing this as the chance to work together for pupils so they check-in, catch up and prepare for summer and September

I recognize that for some learners who are shielding, that this contact may need to be via digital means.  I am also proposing that schools open for an extra week, ending on the 27th July and this week’s holiday will be redistributed to the autumn term. This allows schools more contact time before the summer and gives an extra break in what is likely to be a long and challenging autumn term.

In practice, I would expect schools accommodating reduced number of learners each day according to their capacity while ensuring appropriate social distancing is in place.   It is expected that this will mean roughly a third of pupils present at any one time, schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

During this time, I would expect schools to use this period to:

  • support the health and well-being of learners: learner (and staff) well-being should be the foremost priority
  • “check in” with learners and support them in their preparedness for learning and consider next steps for learning as appropriate
  • test operations for the autumn term; and
  • Build confidence of families in the careful approach we are taking.

This is an opportunity for both learners and staff to prepare and get used to the ‘new normal’ as it will look from September.

For the foreseeable future, learners will experience a blend of face to face and online learning. In the autumn, I expect that schools will have to continue to accommodate all learners who can attend at reduced time to allow for distancing. When they are in school, it will feel very different: with staggered arrivals, departures and breaks; with far more time spent outdoors and in smaller classes. However, I expect them to enjoy secure, dedicated time with teachers and classmates they know well.

Decision-makers, whether you are a Minister, a parent or a headteacher , always have to balance risks.  In this current period, all of us have to think about the possibilities of direct and indirect harm. I have made the decision to increase operations before the summer holiday for a number of key reasons:

  • Waiting until September would mean that most children would not have stepped foot in a school for at least 23 weeks. This would be to the detriment to the development, learning and well-being of our children.
  • I am convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
  • It allows us to make the most of the warm weather and sunlight, which has an important impact in combatting transmission of the virus.
  • It ensures that test, trace and protect will have been in place for a month and will continue to expand. And I can confirm that school staff will be a priority group in our new anti-body testing programme, starting with staff currently working in hubs.
  • And crucially, the evolving science tells us that an autumn spike in the virus is a real possibility. We could be losing even more learning time, and it would be even worse without this period I’m planning for today.

It is of course critical that schools have the proper support to operate at this time. We are working with councils and schools to get all the necessary hygiene stock, safety measures and cleaning in place. Next week, I will publish guidance to support schools in operating under these new conditions and to support learning.  This guidance will be revised and updated over the summer to help schools prepare for the autumn.

For further education, from 15 June, colleges and work-based learning providers will begin to reopen for face-to-face learning for limited groups of learners. My officials have worked with colleges and training providers to agree priority groups of learners who will be included in this initial phase of reopening, focusing on those who need to return to their college or training centre in order to continue to progress in learning.  This includes learners who need to carry out practical assessments to complete their qualifications, and those who need extra support and guidance to stay on track.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

For schools, we now have over three weeks to continue planning, continue getting ready and to continue to focus on safety and wellbeing. We will work with the profession to ensure that they are supported both now and into the autumn. Headteachers will have the opportunity to work with their staff in schools to prepare fully for pupils.   It also provides the time needed for governing bodies and councils to progress the necessary statutory actions and risk assessments to support staff and pupils to return.

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 decision. The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere, and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

This is the best practical option that meets my five principles. Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for Summer and September.

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