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Commissioner responds to Welsh Government guidance for re-opening school buildings

Responding to new guidance issued today by the Welsh Government about the return to school in June 2020, Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, welcomed further clarity on how schools should welcome children back for some school attendance before the summer break. She particularly welcomed the emphasis on pupils’ well-being, but called for more support with home learning. She said:

“Today should be a day where we discuss how our education service provides the best possible learning experience for children across Wales, because the way education will be delivered will look different for months to come. There is no doubt that pupils themselves want more support – we’ve seen that in our survey of nearly 24,000 children – and there is no doubt that the crisis has reinforced education inequities that were already present before schools closed to most pupils. We should be particularly concerned today about children who, perhaps because of lack of resources at home, disabilities or learning needs, or whose parents are juggling work with home schooling, have not been receiving their full right to an education.

“Understandably, some parents and some children are concerned about physically returning to school premises later this month. What I welcome is the flexibility the Minister has offered for families to decide what’s best for them. What I am concerned about is that when discussing the fundamentally important issues of health and safety, children’s wider needs can get lost in the debate. We need to remember that well-being is core to children’s health too, and I would urge that here in Wales we ensure that our schools are welcoming and nurturing places to return to.

“Children have identified themselves that they’re missing out on the social aspect of being in school and professionals are raising concerns about the missing safeguarding net that schools provide. Those two aspects alone highlight to me that continuing as we are is not an option and we must find a way to offer an opportunity for all children to have more engagement with schools and teachers.

“Despite today’s focus on school buildings it is clear that the majority of children’s learning this term, and possibly well into next term too, will take place at home due to the need to limit numbers in school buildings and the fact that some children won’t attend at all for health or other reasons. There is an urgent need to respond to children’s concerns expressed in our nationwide survey and improve the support for home learning.

“To repeat, the focus must be about how we can provide the best possible learning experience for our children, wherever they are, in the weeks and months to come.

“Here’s what I’d like to see happen next:

  • I want to see Welsh Government communicating directly to children and parents on what they should expect when learning at school and at home. There should be a minimum expectation of the support that should be offered to all pupils, whatever their circumstances.
  • I want to see local authorities ensuring that risk assessments for schools’ reopening consider risks to children’s well-being as well as physical risks of the virus.
  • I want to see education consortia providing leadership on training and support to teachers so that they are confident in using the full range of tools available to them to support home learning and are aware of national guidance.
  • I want to see school leaders ensure that all of their pupils are receiving proactive support with home learning, using widely available tools such as live online lessons.
  • I want to see pupils receiving their right to an education, whether in school or at home. They need clear messages about what they can expect to support their education and well-being.”