Voice Cymru comments on statement by Kirsty Williams (updated with letters)

Statement by Education Minister Kirsty Williams on education in Wales on 3 June 2020. Voice "deeply concerned" by proposals. Plus General Secretary's letter to the Education Minister (4 June 2020) (Updated 10 June with the Guidance and 12 June with letter from Kirsty Williams) Updated with letter to Education Minister 17 June 2020.

Click here for guidance added 10 June 2020

Click here for letter, 17 June 2020, and updates 18 June 2020

3 June 2020

Commenting on the statement on education in Wales by Education Minister Kirsty Williams today (3 June 2020), Elizabeth Williams, Senior Professional Officer (Wales) with Voice: The Union for Education Professionals, said:

“We are pleased that the Welsh Government abandoned the idea of radically changing the school year. However, we are deeply concerned by the proposal for all year groups to be in school during an extended summer term. 

"Both ideas disregard Voice's response when we were consulted.

"Further education colleges will be allowed to prioritise particular groups, but schools won’t.

“It has proved difficult for schools in England to extend opening to a few year groups. It will be a logistical nightmare for all schools in Wales – particularly small rural ones –  to try and arrange this for all pupils, ‘in much smaller classes’, even with cohorts and staggered times, and we ask if the additional workload is equal to pupil benefit and what evidence there is to support this.

"Preparation cannot begin properly until the guidance is available, which reduces the ‘three and a half weeks’  by at least a week. Schools, colleges and childcare providers need the guidance now.

“Our own preference was for years 6, 10 and 12 to return, if safe to do so, during the normal summer term, in order to target resources on those groups that need additional support at this time.

"We had proposed, where practicable, that year 6 should have at least one transition day in their new secondary school during the summer term, or to attend their new secondary school in the first week of the Autumn term before any years 8 – 13 returned to school.

“It must be safe for learners and the education workforce to be in school, college or nursery. This means that test, track and tracing must be available throughout Wales, and if there are any increases in the R number, arrangements must be immediately reviewed.

“We will, however, continue to work with the Government and other unions to try and develop the best possible solution for staff, parents, children and students.

“We will also continue to support our members in the coming weeks.”

Voice Cymru’s concerns

Voice Cymru and other unions were consulted by the Welsh Government last Friday about a range of possible options before today’s announcement. In its response to the Welsh Government, Voice Cymru raised a number of concerns, which have not been addressed in today’s statement, and Voice will continue to press for them to be addressed.

The issues Voice Cymru asked for clarification on included the following.

  • How the contractual issues regarding the extension of the current school year will be resolved, particularly with regard to support staff who work term times, and whether the additional week’s work will be paid and/or optional.
  • How the issues regarding members of the workforce who planned holidays at the beginning of the Summer term, or children whose family planned holidays at the start of the Summer term, will be addressed, given it may be possible for certain types of holiday to be taken by 20 July.
  • Whether members of the workforce who were due to retire at the end of the Summer term, both teachers and support staff, will be required to work an additional week, whether the week will be paid and/or whether the additional week’s work will be optional.
  • Cross-border issues for members of the workforce living in Wales but working in England and vice versa need to be resolved.
  • The availability of childcare and nursery places for the proposed additional week, and the difficulties for members of the workforce in arranging childcare for that week, must be addressed.
  • An appropriate equality impact assessment must be undertaken.
  • Information is required on the operating of the hubs over the summer holidays, and the boundaries between the operations of hubs and the provision of education.
  • The real educational benefits to learners in an additional week’s education, particularly if it might only be certain year groups that attend, when compared with the logistical problems and potential harm to the workforce’s wellbeing in extending the summer term.

Update: 4 June 2020

The General Secretary wrote to the Minister for Education on 4 June 2020 to outline Voice's concerns (pdf)

Update: 17 June 2020

The General Secretary wrote again to the Minister for Education on 17 June 2020 to outline Voice's concerns (pdf)

Update 18 June 2020:

Further information

Welsh Government:

“Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September” – all schools in Wales to enter next phase  News

Our latest understanding of COVID-19 with respect to children and education Document

Summary: Opening up childcare and education:

What

  • Schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July 2020. 
  • Autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.
  • Further Education colleges will re-open from 15 June for students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners.
  • Childcare providers will also increase the numbers of children in attendance from 29 June.

How

  • 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.
  • Much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates.
  • This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

What next

  • Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support childcare, 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.

Guidance (added 10 June 2020):

Guidance published to help schools, colleges and childcare settings  10 June 2020 Press release

Written Statement: Publication of guidance to support educational settings increase capacity 10 June 2020 Cabinet statement. Includes:

Operational guidance:

https://gov.wales/operational-guidance-schools-and-settings-keep-education-safe-covid-19

https://llyw.cymru/canllawiau-gweithredol-i-ysgolion-lleoliadau-addysg-diolgeu-addysg-covid-19 

Learners' guidance:

https://gov.wales/guidance-learning-over-summer-term-keep-education-safe

https://llyw.cymru/canllawiau-ar-ddysgu-dros-dymor-yr-haf-diogelu-addysg

FE guidance:

https://llyw.cymru/canllawiau-ar-ailddechrau-addysg-bellach-dysgu-seiliedig-ar-waith-wyneb-yn-wyneb-coronafeirws

https://gov.wales/guidance-face-face-further-education-and-work-based-learning-coronavirus

Childcare guidance:

https://gov.wales/protecting-staff-and-under-5-year-olds-coronavirus-childcare

https://llyw.cymru/diogelu-staff-phlant-dan-5-oed-rhag-y-coronafeirws-mewn-gofal-plant

BBC News:

Q&A: How will schools in Wales reopen?

Small groups and lunch at desks for Welsh schools

Updated: 12 June 2020:

Education Minister’s message to all school staff in Wales

Voice:

Voice:

Welsh Government and other updates

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page

FAQs

Blogs:

Contacts

Press office

Tel:
01332 373 337