Some children in Welsh medium education could return to school sooner, First Minister suggests

Mark Drakeford. Picture by Christopher Jones / Alamy Stock Photo

Children who learn in Welsh but don’t have Welsh-speaking parents at home could return to school earlier than some other children, the First Minister has suggested.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, Mark Drakeford outlined the groups of children he was prioritising to get back to school quickest.

Children with special educational needs, children in year six and children who learn in Welsh but don’t have Welsh speakers at home could be prioritised, he said.

“We have a bilingual education system here in Wales, children are learning in the medium of Welsh but may not have Welsh spoken at home, do we need to get those children back into education sooner?” he said. “Those are the sorts of things we are working on.”

Earlier he said they were also “thinking about ways we can bring young people special education needs back into education”.

“We are thinking about individual year groups. Year six children in primary schools, children going up to secondary schools this September,” he said.

“We know that is a right of passage. You do it with your classmates and yet you won’t have seen those friends for six weeks so can we bring those children back to school earlier?”

He said that “three weeks as a minimum” would be needed to plan a reopening, and that children would not return until June at the earliest.

The Welsh Government has its own plan, although he’d prefer the decision to be taken jointly with other UK governments, he said.

Mr Drakeford said: “You certainly can’t have schools reopen as they did before and sustain social distancing. And you need social distancing for public health reasons but you also need it in order to persuade parents and teachers that you are asking young people to come back into an environment that is safe for them.

“And that is the other big piece of work we are doing at the moment. You can open anything that you like but if people don’t think it is safe to go there then they will vote with their feet.

“I think of this as a phased way we are not going to have all the children back in all of the schools on the same day. We get those children in whom we have the greatest priority to begin with, we monitor that carefully, we add more children in as we are confident that we can do that safely and over time we will get back to something like normal we were used to.”

 

‘Caution’

Mark Drakeford said teaching unions and local education authorities have told the Welsh Government that they’ll need three weeks to prepare from the decision to reopen, which means June at the earliest.

“Well our advice from the trades unions and the local education authorities is that it will need three weeks as a minimum from the point that we decide to do that when schools can reopen so we are talking about the beginning of June there and we are thinking about ways in which we can bring young people with special educational needs back into education,” he said.

His comments however caused confusion with some. NAHT Cymru said: “At no point has June been mentioned in talks between Welsh Government and trade unions.”

Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said: “We would caution against fixing a date in stone at this stage, and to make sure the conditions are right first of all.

“We are happy to plan towards a proposed date, but we would urge that it is clearly stated from the outset that it is moveable if more time is needed.

“We welcome the thought and care that the Welsh Government is putting into the reopening of schools.

“And we agree that the only realistic approach to doing this while sustaining social distancing is through a phased approach, in which certain groups of children are brought in first,” she told the BBC.

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A good decision, if they can do it.
Special needs children: Some special needs residential schools in England have re-opened because it’s considered in the best interests of the children, and there’s no reason why Cymru shouldn’t follow suit.
Year 6: Self-evidently a good decision, to re-accustom children to a schoolenvironment before the transfer to big school.
Welsh medium: Children with di-Gymraeg parents need to be in a Welsh-speaking educational environment again as quickly as possible to keep up the momentum.