I want to start by giving a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to get all of our schools open again for pupils. Building on the efforts for the children of key workers who have been in school throughout the lockdown, the work to prepare the school building, and the pupils themselves, has been a real team effort.
I wish all children could be back full-time for the full four weeks before the summer holidays but I’m grateful that we’ve been able to re-start learning for all, and given all schools a dry run for September in working out how to safely re-open.
I want to pay a special tribute to students in Years 10 and 12, who I know are feeling anxious about their crucial examinations next summer. We are making positive steps together with the WJEC and Qualifications Wales to ensure that the final arrangements will not put you at a disadvantage, and that your time in the classroom is maximised.
It’s clear that there was a significant amount of nervousness surrounding the physical reopening of schools this week. But after a week back in the classroom, I’m seeing more and more examples of well thought through, orderly classroom environments. Schools like Bigyn and Glan-y-mor have done an excellent job over social media of demystifying new practices such as pupils being given designated desks and pencil cases. Along with colourful one way systems and tap-free hand washing stations, I think this week has illustrated that for all the challenges it took to get here, parents, staff and pupils can be feel safe in this new normal.
I was pleased to see Coedcae head, Tracy Senchal, being used by the Welsh Government in a special video for all teachers in Wales to see the preparations she and her team were making to a safe re-opening.
I’ve heard many children across the constituency tell me how much of a boost seeing friends has been for their wellbeing. I know from my kids’ lockdown experience that the past few months have been really frustrating, so I’m glad to see schools such as Bryngwyn doing plenty of outdoor activities and mindfulness sessions, helping pupils rebuild those key relationships and feel confident within themselves again.
The general feedback from pupils appears to be positive, with a number of parents getting the same response; ‘I wish I could go back every day’. We must listen to this call from our children, who have sacrificed so much of late.
Our situation is unlikely to have dramatically improved by September, so we will need to think creatively about getting more children back into a learning environment. In Carmarthenshire, Welsh Government funding has provided nearly 2000 families with adequate IT and Wifi for their children to learn from home. But we need to go further to ensure that provision is consistent across the board, both in and out of the classroom.
This is rapidly becoming one of the biggest challenges of the Coronavirus crisis, and for an entire generation, we need to work together in order to get it right.