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Shadow Education Minister comments on extension of school closures

Suzy Davies MS – the Shadow Education Minister – has said that while the announcement that Welsh schools will remain closed until half-term, unless Covid infection rates drop – is a sensible safety-first measure, it is disappointing for learners and parents

Mrs Davies said:

“Safety of course must be the top priority. However, schools are closing because of activity outside the school estate not within it. MSs need full details of the evidence of that as well as the action that has been taken to date to try and stop it – before announcements are made in the media. This way of doing things doesn’t equip us to answer the questions which pour in on the back of press statements.

“We have seen nothing that will reassure learners as to what plans the government has in place to get our schools back open and our young people learning again. What does a “significant drop” in cases mean? Early sight of return-to-school “catch up” plans would be useful, especially as Welsh Labour-led Government committed £29 million to catch up activity last year.

“Welsh Conservatives have called for early vaccination of school staff, once the four priority groups have been treated. We have had no indication from Welsh Government that they have been prepared to work with colleagues across the UK to make that happen. Everyone recognises how the virus has damaged education, affecting pupils and teachers alike, and no stone should be left unturned.”

Mrs Davies also raised concerns over “digital discrimination”, leaners who do not have access to suitable devices to study on, or have insufficient access to reliable internet connections to enable online learning, adding:

“Learners and their parents have now had the second body blow of finding out that Qualifications Wales has cancelled the internal assessments due this term. Is this an admission that online teaching and learning is not reliable and consistent enough to provide enough quality teaching. After 10 months of disruption, I’m finding difficult to accept that government and local authorities still can’t source equipment. I hope the money earmarked for this is still available.

Mrs Davies insisted that education consortia report immediately on what they have done to support schools maintain standards using blended learning

 “The future of blended learning remains a worry. Whatever improvements there have been with online teaching since last March, inconsistency on quality and quantity is now exacerbated by engagement fatigue. Consortia must help schools crack this, by supporting schools offer a minimum amount of pupil-focused teacher contact, teaching and feedback for progression. Bringing in Estyn is a last step, as schools as under so much pressure, but it can’t be ruled out.

“But the firm focus should be on opening schools for live online learning where appropriate and then face to face teaching.

“This is another bleak day for education in Wales. Decisions aren’t easy to make and I urge everyone involved in the journeys to and from school to consider how they might help schools open again and stay open. I’m looking now to the Minister to set out a series of positive steps and ideas to get schools open quickly and for longer, rather than shackle herself to a three-week cycle of decisions.”