A headteacher has made a heartfelt appeal to the Welsh Government to keep schools open if it imposes a “fire break” lockdown to slow the rise in coronavirus cases.
Annamaria Bevan, headteacher at St Margaret’s Catholic Primary in Abedare, warned that children’s social and mental health would suffer further, as well as their education, if schools are ordered to shut again.
“Please don’t close our schools. Our children and families need us. We are vital support and children need their education,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter how many laptops and iPads you give out, some children cannot get on with online learning.”
A decision on whether schools would be shut if a short two week “circuit breaker” is imposed has not yet been made, but the Welsh Government has confirmed it is something that is “under consideration”.
All schools were ordered to shut for the pandemic in March. Some opened as hubs providing childcare for keyworkers’ through the summer term before they opened again for the last few weeks of the summer term.
Ms Bevan urged those in power to take account of the vital work schools do beyond education.
She said they are community hubs at a time when most other face to face services have remained shut.
Her school, and others, have been offering support for families, some of whom are struggling and in food poverty, she warned.
Children are just beginning to re-learn essential social skills as well as catching up on school work after months at home during lockdown.
Term has only been open a matter of weeks and already the improvements are clear, but that could all be lost if schools are forced to shut again, she warned.
“All our children were so excited to be back and see friends again.
“School closure had a social effect. This was especially on younger children in year one and two who had not been so exposed to online gaming before lockdown, but have been exposed since, and have completely lost their play skills.
“They have lost the ability to play collaboratively in a problem solving way. Making a den we carry sticks together but they are now instantly becoming shooting material.
“We have also had families in food crisis. I bought a bag of shopping for a family last week. Food banks are open but not everybody is comfortable using them.
“Our canteen is serving hot food and if we are open I know our children get a hot meal every day.”
Although cases have been high in RCT, which has been in local lockdown on September 17, there have been no cases of coronavirus among her 148 pupils aged three to 11 or the 12 teachers and five other staff at the school.
All children returned when the school re-opened in September, apart from one who is moving abroad and attendance is nearly 100%.
“Schools are really safe. At our school we do lots of learning outdoors in our forest school.
“There are no communal areas in this school. All our classrooms open on to the outside so we don’t need to use corridors or share the main entrance.
“We wash hands more, classes don’t mix and there is more cleaning. Our canteen is serving hot food and they eat it in their classrooms.
“Parents are not coming in but we feel strongly that schools are a support so if I feel a parent really needs to come in I will hold meetings to support their child’s wellbeing or education at a social distance in the school hall.”
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Annamaria urged all those making decisions during the pandemic to understand how important schools are beyond education.
“Children’s education has obviously been massively disrupted by being away from school so long. The children in our school have big gaps in their learning,” she said.
“Schools have always been a hub in their communities supporting families. Please keep them open.”
UsForThem Cymru, a 3,000 strong group of parents, doctors, scientists and epidemiologists lobbying to keep schools open said in a statement: “We want to express the devastation that our almost 3,000 members are feeling that the schools may close again.
“We took the Welsh Government at their word that after six months barely seeing the inside of a school our nation’s children would be prioritised and schools would remain open.
“We have heard Ministers and their scientific advisors confirm that the impact of schools reopening on the spread of Covid-19 has been minimal and yet after less than half a term our children’s learning is one again being threatened.”
A Welsh Government spokesman for the education department said: “The measures we have put in place at both a local and a national level, with help from the public, have kept the spread of the virus under check.
“However, there is a growing consensus that we now need to introduce a different set of measures and actions to respond to the virus as it is spreading across Wales more quickly through the autumn and winter.
“We are actively considering advice from SAGE and our TAC [Technical Advisory Cell] group. A “fire-break” set of measures to control Covid-19, similar to that described in the SAGE papers, is under consideration in Wales. But no decisions have been made.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk