Kirsty Williams on long term planning for schools during pandemic

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Kirsty Williams, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister for Wales, has today been explaining the plans for the re-opening of schools in Wales. The youngest children will return after the half term break this month, joining the children of key workers and a few other groups of pupils who have continued to attend during lockdowns.

She is also quoted in the Guardian:

I think it’s important we try to take a longer term view that allows us to plan more effectively. We know if we can take those decisions in advance it gives more time for professionals and families to plan. We do need to have those discussions. There is a seasonality element to Covid-19. Therefore, we have to think about what the autumn and winter will look like.

It is refreshing to see some longer term vision, rather than short term reactions. As part of her thinking Kirsty is exploring shorter breaks during the summer months in Welsh schools to balance possible restrictions next winter.

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11 Comments

  • Phil Beesley 5th Feb '21 - 5:59pm

    Ms Williams is the most open of all ministers in devolved governments and Whitehall when addressing how education ought to be delivered. Thank you again, after Ms Williams questioned how examinations might be conducted in 2021.

    Ten months ago, I would have argued that schools should have been looking for extra physical space and that government should have been funding more teaching assistants, government employing more record checkers in order that new staff and volunteers might participate. We should have spent last summer re-creating schools rather than selling cheap burgers. I do not write these words from hindsight.

    When I talked to family about education last spring, I thought that four school year groups — 14 to 17 years age group in 2020 — would be damaged by exam prospects and life expectations. It is now a five year age group — 14 to 18 years in 2021. Noting, of course, that exams may matter nowt.

    As a nation we are going to have to rethink how we treat a new generation of students and workers. Maybe a post-Covid education fund for students? Funding for universities to fill in gaps? Or is it the time to talk about academic elitism versus professional competence?

    Government ministers talk as if young people who have been outside a classroom can be fixed up by a few lessons from a chap(ess) on a few Zoom chats or whatever. Provided by a tutor who may only work for a government approved company. I don’t wear a tin foil hat; I just think that schools are best qualified to nominate tutors.

  • Phil Beesley 5th Feb '21 - 8:13pm

    I am aghast. Nothing much changed in the world in the last four hours and no Lib Dem Voice contributor squeaked up “we are the party of education”.

    If Lib Dems are the party of education, squeak now.

  • Phil Beesley 5th Feb '21 - 10:24pm

    More hours. I must have blinked. Lib Dem Voice readers know more about ice ages than fellow readers.

    What has government promised for education, and what has opposition demanded?

  • Helen Dudden 6th Feb '21 - 9:36am

    For a part of my working life, I worked in Teacher Staffing. It felt a very useful occupation, though not well paid.
    I feel that you can’t expect anyone, who does not understand, and does not have the experience of teaching, to give wise comments.
    Children will suffer both mentally, and academically that’s one fact.
    Trauma can affect the brain, and it’s development.
    I think we will look back on this passage in time with some, wish we had done thoughts.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Feb '21 - 10:16am

    Sammy Wright of the Social Mobility Commission has similarly called for a comprehensive long term plan to help all youngsters affected. This goes beyond the immediate exams problem and concerns the proper education and development of our young people.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2021-exams-a-bigger-disaster-than-last-year

    Sammy is to be one of our speakers at an LDEA fringe at spring conference about whether GCSEs should be replaced.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Feb '21 - 10:28am

    I add to my comment above that Sammy calls for a free extra academic year post16 for all affected by Covid to help them make up for lost learning. His piece is fairly long, so I also quote from the end of it:
    “We must have a bold plan to enable the most disadvantaged groups to catch up… It needs to be part of a longterm strategy, fully funded, planned by educationalists with cross party consensus, that looks forward for the next 5 years to support those most impacted by Covid-19 over their educational lifetime.”

  • Steve Trevethan 6th Feb '21 - 12:25pm

    Assuming that we pay in our own currency and manage inflation efficiently, what is to stop us from offering all pupils/students another year+ of free education?

  • For all her hard work as Education Minister, it’s unfortunate that the party hasn’t seen any tangible benefit. We almost certainly won’t make any gains in May and with Kirsty stepping down, we could even be wiped out in Wales.

  • Peter Chambers 7th Feb '21 - 12:03pm

    Senior politicians seem very keen that teachers have little say in education policy. Is it that they fear teachers may interfere with the indoctrination of the young?

    Mr Blair “had the scars” of battle in education, mention of Mr Gove produces hisses at Parent Teacher Association meetings, Socrates was sentenced to death for corruption of youth. How do we get government to listen to what works, rather than tinker?

  • David Evans 7th Feb '21 - 12:58pm

    Alexander, The first thing stopping us giving an extra year’s education to those who have lost out, which I agree is absolutely vital and indeed I would argue should be our duty, is where do you find about 8% more teachers, 8% more classrooms, 8% more science labs, 8% more playing fields or an agreement from teachers to teach longer or at different times (say less summer holidays). Also perhaps you need significantly more than 8%, because there is lots of data showing that that children (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) regress significantly even over the six week holiday period. Even spread over a number of years, this is a massive exercise.

    All these things can be overcome with a willingness to accept new ideas and significant planning to make it all work. For example one might suggest that teachers would need to consider just how hard front line health workers have had to work over the pandemic, to get some traction that teachers and in fact *every one of us* will actually have to work harder and longer than we have been used to, if we are serious about recovery, and that might have to impact on things even Lib Dems hold dear, like longer maternity leave.

    The alternative might well be a serious and permanent fall in living standards.

    It’s a tough world out there, and we have to be serious about it. It is clear that the Populist People’s Party under Boris Johnson are nowhere like up for it, nor would the Workers Party under Kier Starmer dare face down the unions. The only question is are we and if so, how do we get to be heard, so we can start to nudge the oil tanker that is public opinion, just a bit more in our direction?

  • @David Evans
    >“The first thing stopping us giving an extra year’s education to those who have lost out, …, is where do you find about 8% more teachers, 8% more classrooms, 8% more science labs, 8% more playing fields”
    A question has to be whether we really need more ‘teachers’ or whether what we actually need are more tutors/assistants ie. better organisation of teaching and support of the learning process.
    The current situation has driven much ‘teaching’ online, so one teacher can reach significantly more pupils. However, these pupils probably need just as much and possibly more tutor support. Which raises the question as to whether tutors need to be fully qualified teachers and thus could be people who have just undergone a shorter tutoring course. What is clear teaching and schools need to become much more professional and organised in the way they teach and support teaching; which implies investment…

    The additional classrooms could potentially come from previously closed schools(!), vacated offices (home working, downsized economy etc.).
    The playing fields, well we need to think differently. Even when I went to school, the schools didn’t use the pitches in the local parks, preferring to use their own playing fields.
    The science labs and other specialist classrooms are probably the biggest challenges. Perhaps this might mean that lower school years miss out on some hands-on practical so that GCSE and A-level students don’t.
    Naturally, there would be a ripple on into higher education but suspect some of the necessary slack will come from a reduction in overseas student numbers.

    >Also perhaps you need significantly more than 8%, because there is lots of data showing that children (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) regress significantly even over the six week holiday period.
    There is (at least one) state school that uses 5 x 8 week term with a 2 week holiday between each term and a 4 week summer holiday, which they have found gives a reasonable balance(*) and gives 25% more classroom time than the traditional system.

    Finally, there is one big challenge and that is giving children more unstructured social interaction time. One of the things I’ve found children miss is the time simply spent hanging around together.

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