The policy announcement on Wednesday June 3rd by Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams to re-open schools in Wales to all year groups from June 29th, is a serious mistake.
The English Department for Education re-opened schools on June 1st. It did so in the absence of an effective test and trace policy. The reproduction number (R) remains high (with the prospect that school re-opening would raise it beyond the limit of 1). The Chief Medical Officers in all four UK countries refuse to reduce the Covid 19 threat level from level 4 to level 3, which Boris Johnson said would be a precondition for re-opening.
The Johnson Government has done this to divert attention from their failings and the furore over the blind arrogance of Dominic Cummings. They also seek to create the possibility of stimulating the economy, and filling their pockets, – despite the risk to working class children, their parents and grand-parents.
Meanwhile Eton remains closed until September and the Cambridges are reported to be keeping their children safe in Norfolk. Fortunately many parents and many Local Authorities are refusing to cooperate with Johnson. Up to 90% of the schools in some areas remain closed to more pupils. In the North East of England just 12% of primary schools admitted more pupils. This is entirely understandable, given that the level of excess deaths (those dying more than expected) is 41% in the North East, compared with 24% in London and just 13% in Wales.
Johnson and his cronies claim to be motivated by the falling behind of vulnerable children, a problem that never worried them in the past. They (and their tame Children’s Commissioner for England) affect to be concerned that vulnerable children spend less time on internet tasks and do not suffer the boredom of a thousand worksheets. They are also less likely to live in nice areas, have large gardens, high expectations and a sense of entitlement. This is so because we live in the class society that they seek, so hard, to defend.
In Wales, as in England, schools have not been completely closed. They have been open for vulnerable pupils and for the children of key workers. Teachers have been setting and marking work. They have been ensuring meals for free school meal pupils even delivering food to their parents. The major teacher unions warned the Welsh Government against over hasty re-opening. But it is not just the unions, many parents are concerned too.
The teacher unions have been protecting the majority through the lock-down. In the past, Wales has too often given way to criticism for not following the English pathway – even when its own path is better. This is why we have literacy and numeracy testing in Wales and the idiotic colour coded league tables.
Let us not now abandon the sensible path that the Welsh Government has been taking. Let us avoid the difficulties that re-opening will bring – in terms of social distancing, cleaning of premises (especially lavatories), travel implications (especially in rural schools) and availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Why should Wales race England to increased transmission of the virus and the second Covid spike? It does not need to do so.
Mike Newman, SEA Cymru