Return to School Update
- Meeting of Children and Young People Select Committee, Thursday, 14th October, 2021 10.00 am (Item 3.)
Brief verbal update on return to school and pandemic implications.
Will McLean gave a verbal update and answered the members’ questions.
The SLT at King Henry VIII has received unpleasant and threating messages from anti-vaxxers – is there any reassurance that these people can be identified, and any action taken?
All of our secondary schools will have received messages of this kind – perhaps even the same messages, copied and pasted. We’ve worked very well with our colleagues in Aneurin Bevan and are grateful for their work. Mererid Bowley, one of the public health consultants, has met with the secondary headteachers to talk through the process. It is positive that the vaccinations have been taken on at the mass vaccination centres, rather than at a school level. We work with colleagues in the legal department regarding correspondence received; there have been other instances in Monmouthshire where we have escalated that to other agencies. Headteachers should never have to receive this type of correspondence, and we are supporting them in their responses.
Teachers who can’t be involved because of Covid therefore can’t be involved in development of the new curriculum. Does this pose a threat to its effective introduction?
The curriculum challenge is significant. We are only two and a half terms away from its implementation. If there is a significant burden on leaders to be engaged with the management of operational matters, including Covid, then it will indeed take away from some of their capacity to engage fully with curriculum development. However, they have had an extended period of time for preparation. But, yes, the ability to engage at the moment is a significant concern. We will discuss curriculum implementation with our Estyn colleagues in our meeting tomorrow.
Regarding King Henry attendance, the leadership is concerned that the most vulnerable children are now not attending in notable numbers. Can we return to the older model of someone knocking on doors?
Richard Austin has done a huge amount of work, nationally and locally, in how we support our schools regarding understanding the Welsh Government’s position. Their position remains that they don’t want to bring back some of the more pecuniary interventions relating to attendance. We are using EWOs to ensure that we are engaging with those young people to get them back into school especially as they are often the most vulnerable learners. In Monmouthshire, our attendance is normally in the mid-90%; the figure at King Henry indeed represents a significant drop-off, doubtless due in large part to Covid. But we do need to ensure that those children return to school. There are some children with significant anxiety caused by the pandemic, so different approaches need to be considered for different circumstances.
Would it be more sensible for Welsh Government to postpone the new curriculum, to give more time to organise after Covid and give the teachers the chance to take it on board properly?
When the new minister for Education, Jeremy Miles, was elected he undertook a review of this: the change he made was that secondary schools could choose to delay until 2023, and then implement for Year 7 and 8 at that time. Now, I don’t think a delay will be considered. The challenge for us, as a local authority, is that we will see significant variation in delivery across our schools. that, allied to significant changes to the accountability framework, will mean that how we give account for our schools’ activities will be a significant challenge in the future, but we are working on that with colleagues across the county.
The level of Covid infection remains worrying. Absences in Year 10 and 11 will have an effect on exam candidates; greater flexibility from exam boards will be reined in next year. The level of attendance is a concern generally, particularly in the case of more vulnerable learners, for whom school can be the most structured part of their lives. Pressure on leaders is worrying, too, especially with the pressure of the incoming curriculum. We thank all leaders and staff in schools for their continued efforts.
Councillor Edwards wished to note his admiration for how Chepstow comprehensive has improved and dealt with the challenges of Covid. Councillor Groucott expressed the same sentiments towards King Henry VIII.