All secondary schools and further education (FE) institutes across in Wales must shift to online lesson delivery from Monday 14 December.
The news was announced by Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams this morning (4 December), who claimed the move formed part of a “national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus”.
Face-to-face classes across secondary and FE will be replaced by e-learning for the last week of term before the Christmas break, while primary and special schools have been advised to stay open, with Ms Williams citing the difficulty for younger children to undertake “self-directed learning” as the reason for the instruction.
Contrary to the minister’s statement, a number of counties have announced that primary schools will also close early, including Cardiff and Swansea.
The latest TTP data shows that coronavirus cases across Wales have spiked once more, now exceeding 370 cases per 100,000 people. The nation’s R rate has increased to 1.27, meaning the infection rate is doubling every 11.7 days.
The decision has a knock-on effect for secondary learners in Gloucestershire who attend schools close to the Welsh border, with Monmouthshire Comprehensive and Monmouth Boys’ School among those ordered to close.
The Welsh children’s commissioner Sally Holland has criticised the announcement, which came just hours after the government had indicated there would be no national directive to close schools, deeming it damaging and disruptive to young people’s education. Ms Holland said the shift was “not the right decision”, claiming she had not yet seen sufficient scientific evidence to support the migration to online.
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Despite this, teaching unions and representatives of headteachers have been calling for an early end to in-class lesson delivery, a decision they feel will help minimise the spread of the virus in the run up to the Christmas break. While they were pleased with the announcement, many expressed their concerns that primary schools would not be closing too.
Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, commented:”While we feel this is the right decision for secondary schools given the circumstances, it is going to be a challenge to move to fully supporting online learning while simultaneously remaining open for vulnerable children, and we are concerned about the impact it could have on classroom bubbles.”
Doel said the union is “bitterly disappointed” for primary school students and their families, adding that the news goes against the Welsh government’s advice to pre-isolate before visiting extended family over Christmas.
Simon Carter, director of RM Education, commented on the announcement, saying that above all, a continuity plan is essential for the country’s schools. “Whether there’s a second spike in coronavirus cases, more local lockdowns, a snow day, a sick day, or all four, a hybrid approach to teaching – where online learning and classroom learning are combined – will be the only way to ensure pupils still receive the same high quality of teaching during term time,” he explained.
“Young people are more digitally savvy than ever before, and schools should be doing what they can to build on these skills to incorporate online learning and collaboration into the way they teach, whether in school or at home. Ultimately, schools and colleges should be a constant for all children and reliable technology is critical to making that possible.”