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‘We need to pull together now to remove barriers that are preventing our children from learning and our teachers from teaching’

Responding to the recently-published research by UCL on children’s experiences of home learning and the developments yesterday which throw doubt on how long some schools will be open for in July, Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:

“We need to pull together now to remove barriers that are preventing our children from learning and our teachers from teaching.

“Education is a basic human right of every child in Wales. From evidence – anecdotal and published – and from the views of nearly 24000 children and young people we’ve gathered, this pandemic has, without doubt, affected our children’s education.

“After an extraordinary period, where we have as a nation managed to open field hospitals and the population has accepted previously unthinkable changes to their everyday lives, I find it frustrating that when it comes to our children’s education there is not now more flexibility on issues such as holiday contracts. I am also concerned about the inconsistent offer to children on support for home learning and how much in-school time will be available in the next few weeks.

“It cannot be denied that most school leaders will have faced the most challenging periods of their careers. Over the last three months we’ve seen the sudden, unexpected closure of schools, the re-emergence of some as childcare hubs, many offering packages of learning for pupils and a few embracing new methods of teaching. Nonetheless, it is clear that many children are missing out educationally. Many will struggle to engage with independent learning for many reasons, and it is clear from reports received by my office from parents that the support and delivery from schools has been very varied.

“The next few weeks are critical and unless we use those weeks constructively to focus minds on what needs to change, there is a real danger that the lack of action now will impact on children in the long-term.

“It’s clear that the situation surrounding school buildings is unlikely to change anytime soon; restrictions will still be in place in September. But how we educate our children must now, after thirteen weeks, adapt. Our Government has invested millions in a world-leading digital platform, Hwb, and there has been some (not yet perfect) roll out of digital devices for our children, yet the UCL report suggests that live online engagement is still a rare experience for our pupils. Not all children who are engaging with work are receiving feedback on that work.

  • We’ve seen the Welsh Government provide flexible guidance to enable learners to return and I’m now asking them to set clear, national expectations so that pupils, parents and staff understand what’s expected of them over the next few weeks and months.

At a local level, we’ve seen promising practice emerging, but this should be routine not an exception:

  • We urgently need to recognise the barriers to effectively engage children in home learning and find creative ways to solve it.
  • We urgently need to find ways to maximise the hours in school that can be offered to children, and solve barriers being reported, like the challenge of running child-care hubs alongside regular school activities.
  • We urgently need to make sure children with additional learning needs get the support they need to learn.
  • We urgently need to make sure that young people do not disengage entirely from education during this process.

“This country has shown how it can respond at pace to a crisis for the NHS; it’s time to do the same for this education crisis.”