Coronavirus: 'Scenarios' planned for schools' September return

By James Williams
BBC Politics Wales

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Back to school - what to expect

Education Minister Kirsty Williams would grab a full return for schools in September "with both hands" if scientific advice said it was safe.

But she said the Welsh Government also has "to plan for a range of scenarios".

Concern has been raised over a possible "blended learning" system with class work, online learning, and homework.

The minister conceded that there had "been a huge variation" in the experience of online learning since the start of the outbreak.

A survey by University College London (UCL) found only 1.9% of Welsh pupils had four or more daily online lessons, compared with the UK average of 7%.

Asked on the BBC Politics Wales programme if online teaching had been good enough, Ms Williams said: "We were asking teachers to embrace a pedagogy that is not something that they do every day and as we've gone on we've seen increasing use of live lessons.

"Hwb, our digital learning platform, has had tens of thousands of log-ins day in, day out throughout this pandemic and teachers have used that to its full effect."

She added that work was needed "to make sure that our blended learning offer is as good as it needs to be" if the spread of Covid-19 "doesn't allow us to get our children back to school" after the summer break.

From Monday, primary and secondary schools will reopen to most pupils in Wales as part of a phased short return ahead of the summer holidays.

Scottish schools are aiming to reopen full-time with no physical distancing in August if coronavirus continues to be suppressed.

In Northern Ireland, the plan is for schools to fully reopen on 24 August with social distancing reduced from 2m to 1m.

Pupils in all year groups in England will go back to school full-time in September.Ms Williams said Wales was "planning for a variety of scenarios for September" including following one and two metre social distancing rules and if a "normal" routine could return.

"And what do we do if something in the late autumn, in the winter, if the disease, if the virus comes back with a vengeance and we have to close schools again?" she said.

"We need to have a plan to do that systematically and to support children's learning at home."

'Acceptable level of schooling'

BBC Wales has seen a letter sent by a Welsh Government official that states "that September won't bring the return to normality we would all like to see".

The letter, sent to a parent on Tuesday 23 June by an official in the government's education department, reads: "The impact of the coronavirus will continue to be felt for a long period of time.

"Schools will have to function differently in September and for some time afterwards.

"Schools will feel different, with staggered arrivals and departures, breaks and lunchtimes, smaller classes, different behaviours and different ways of teaching and learning," it adds.

Welsh Conservative MS, Andrew RT Davies said: "The sad truth is that events of recent weeks have exposed a leadership vacuum in how these school plans were put together and communicated by the Welsh Government.

"The lack of ambition from the minister and her department over school plans for September is not just infuriating it's downright irresponsible.

"Parents are frantic with worry and fearful for their child's future, and won't be able to return to work themselves unless an acceptable level of schooling returns after the summer holidays."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "As the education minister said, we are working on a range of scenarios when schools return in September.

"We will continue to be guided by the scientific advice and will set out our plans accordingly."

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