All children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.
It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.
In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. 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 teaching staff and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and staff ready for a similar experience in September.
Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.
The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.
Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.
Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.
Kirsty Williams said:
My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.
We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.
29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers and teaching assistants will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.
The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.
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 this 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 which underpin my decision making.
I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.