Coronavirus in Wales: Thousands want September full-time school return

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Martha StoneImage source, Martha Stone
Image caption,
The petition was started by Martha Stone and now has 7,000 signatures

There is growing pressure on the Welsh Government to set out its plan for how schools might reopen in September.

A petition with more than 7,000 signatures is calling for pupils to return full time after the summer.

Ministers have previously said blended learning for pupils - a mix of working at home and limited time with teachers - would be likely for some time.

The Welsh Government said it expected to give more details in the next few days.

Schools in Wales reopened last week with pupils receiving a limited number of sessions with teachers before the start of the summer holidays.

Schools in England and Scotland are working to reopen fully at the start of the new term.

Image caption,
Armando Di-Finizio said his school has three different timetables lined up

Mother-of-three Martha Stone started the petition and is part of campaign group Us For Them Cymru, which has been lobbying the Welsh Government for pupils to return to school in September.

Mrs Stone, from Newport, said she was finding it difficult to continue home-schooling but was also concerned about children being affected mentally and socially.

"I'm really disappointed that we don't seem to have any plan," she said. "I think that's what's making a lot of people very anxious.

"There's a lot of parents coming off furlough soon. I've spoken to parents who are very worried and they don't know what they're going to do.

"I would like some kind of plan and I'd like to hear that things are being put in place for all children to return to school in September.

"Blended learning, for me, is part-time learning. I'm not trained to give my children the education they need and I feel they have a right to full-time education."

Image caption,
Schools have had to comply with a number of requirements before pupils were allowed to return

But Armando Di-Finizio, headteacher at Eastern High School in Cardiff, believes it could take until October to get everyone back.

"I think it has to be a stepped return," he said. "We can't all go back in September just like that. I think it's too late for that with schools.

"We have three different timetables planned at the moment - one for two-metre distancing, one for a one-metre distancing and one for no distancing.

"Even then, we will still not be ready in September to have everyone back."

Mary van den Heuvel, from National Education Union Cymru, said it supports children returning to the classroom in September - but only if it is safe to do so.

"This virus hasn't gone away and we don't think it's going to have gone away by September," she said.

"So it's really important that those safety precautions are in place and we're able to utilise what we've got in terms of greater use of staff who've recently left the profession, maybe those people who are new to the profession and the supply workforce to ensure that everybody is able to get into school where they can.

"Of course we want children back in schools, school is the best place for children to be learning, but I think as well we need a blended approach there in the background."

Image caption,
Marlborough Primary School in Cardiff welcomed back 95 pupils a week ago

Previously the National Association of Headteachers Cymru said its members were frustrated they do not yet have details of what ministers expect, and warned there was a "serious risk" schools will not be ready to reopen in September.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Wales is the only UK nation where all pupils have been given the opportunity to attend school before the summer holidays, to see their teachers and classmates and to 'check in, catch up and prepare' for summer and September.

"Good practice and evidence from this current period is helping inform school operations for the future.

"Health and scientific advice is evolving, and having to look ahead a further two months is an added challenge."

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government has said it will suspend school categorisation for the 2020/21 academic year, as part of its measures to reduce pressure on schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Every year, primary and secondary schools are measured against a range of factors and placed into one of four colour-coded categories which helps to identify the schools needing the most support.