Calls for Education Minister to use legal powers to open schools for fourth week

Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams

The Welsh Conservatives have called for the Education Minister to use her legal power to ensure schools open for a fourth week, despite directions from their local authority to restrict re-opening to three weeks.

17 of Wales’ 22 authorities have already announced that they will not extend the term to the fourth week as talks between teaching unions, councils and government stalled.

Shadow Minister for Education, Suzy Davies MS, said that schools had already prepared for a fourth week but were being held back by local authorities.

When asked in the Senedd about her powers to over-ride council directions, the Education Minister did not answer, she said.

“We have school leaders and staff who have gone over and above to get ready for a fourth week,” Suzy Davies said. “After everything they have already done, this is a generous offer and I am so grateful to them.

“We have children and their families who wanted four weeks.  We have children and families who weren’t sure but may have made up their minds once they’d seen how the first week went.

“Time is running out here, but the Welsh Labour Government can still show leadership here if they care to.  The Education Minister can still use her powers under Clause 38 of the Coronavirus Act to back those schools which can – and want to – open for a fourth week.

“She is sincere in her belief that it is necessary for children’s wellbeing to check in, catch up and prepare.  It would be odd, then, if she didn’t actively support those schools who are so keen to support her.”

 

‘Inconsistency’

Only Conwy, Pembrokeshire or Powys will be providing the full four weeks the government wanted.

Schools in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Swansea, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan or Wrexham have confirmed that they will be returning for only three weeks.

Pupils on Anglesey will not be returning on 29 June because of the coronavirus outbreak at the 2 Sisters meat factory. If they do return later their term will also end on 17 July.

“There’s no contractual obligation for staff to work the extra week – putting the onus on individual head teachers and staff, which is unfair,” Wrexham council said in a statement.

“It could also lead to inconsistency and confusion, with some schools able to open for the fourth week, and some not.

“We know that many parents will be feeling anxious and uncertain about sending their children back to school, and need to know exactly what’s happening so they can make arrangements and feel confident.”

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