Yesterday the Education Minister announced the reopening of schools for all pupils on 29th June with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27th July.
In each school there will be a phased approach.
It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation. There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates.
The logistics of opening are being discussed with each headteacher and each school will need to develop its own bespoke re-operation plan and risk assessment. These will need to be signed off by Chairs of Governors. They will include details on how many pupils will attend each day and from each year groups, how social distancing and hygiene will be managed, catering arrangements, how learning will be modified to meet children’s needs and many other aspects.
It should be emphasised that remote learning continues to be a key part of our learning and counselling provision for pupils. We would expect this model of delivery to be further developed and enhanced by the Check In, Catch Up arrangements announced by the Minister.
This work has already started in Neath Port Talbot and builds upon our successful operation of childcare hubs.
A number of weeks ago the Education Directorate established 12 headteacher focus groups to provide weekly contact and discussion opportunities for our senior school leaders. Headteachers have already modelled how classrooms could look under the 2m social distancing rule, they have also modelled how schools would operate safely for pupils taking into account issues such as entry and exit strategies, break and lunch times, use of resources etc.
Furthermore, a question and answer portal has been established on HWB to allow headteachers and school staff to ask pertinent questions and provide answers that are shared with all schools.
Training on cleaning and hygiene will be delivered to all schools next week, focusing on the enhanced practice needed to provide safe environments for pupils.
We collect and collate daily attendance data at our childcare hubs; we collect weekly data on the staffing capacities within our schools; this currently stands at 80%. This provides useful statistical patterns on demand and allows us to learn from the current hub provision.
We have established 5 distinct workstreams aimed at managing the phased operation of schools, these groups include headteacher and local authority representatives and are focusing on:
b) cleaning and hygiene;
c) daily organisation and operation;
e) emotional health and wellbeing of pupils and staff.
These workstreams have secured a clear and coherent understanding of the issues we face and are beginning to provide operational solutions. We have undertaken a parental survey through our schools to capture and understand the concerns and aspirations of parents in these difficult times.
We will now escalate this work to ensure that all schools are supported through the preparation period for the Check In and Catch Up provision. This will be done in accordance with current guidance on social distancing and hygiene and will take account of the yet to be published guidance from Welsh Government on this specific development.
We appreciate that there will be specific challenges relating to home to school transport and we will be strongly encouraging parents to transport their children to school in accordance with the advice provided by their headteacher.
However, we also acknowledge that this may not be possible in all circumstances and we are currently modelling a range of potential solutions to ensuring access to schools. This could include providing half-day sessions thereby increasing the number of journeys undertaken by our transport providers. No final decisions have been taken, we are considering all options and permutations.
We accept that some solutions may not be universally welcomed, however we are committed to working with schools and their communities to explore innovative ways of meeting pupils’ needs.
During the first few weeks of reopening we hold the view that significant emotional health and wellbeing support will be needed for school based staff and pupils alike. To this end, we have prepared a range of resources, including lesson content, and guidance to support schools in this key aspect. Our School Based Counselling Service will also be available, as they have been during lockdown to provide dedicated advice and input on a school by school basis.
The Education Minister has created the opportunity for children to Check in, Catch Up and prepare before the start of September. Parents are not obliged to send their children to school and will not be prosecuted for not doing so.
We will continue to work closely with our schools over the next three weeks to ensure that they are all in the best place possible to reopen safely for pupils. Whilst there will be universal guidance and support, we cannot legislate for all local issues and these will need to be considered carefully and captured in each school’s re-operation plan and risk assessment.
Whilst the reopening or reoperation of schools needs to be approached with great care and caution, with detail and deliberation, it also is an opportunity to take a step closer to a new normality that will provide support through counselling and learning for the children and young people of Neath Port Talbot.