TO: Jeremy Miles MS
Minister for Education and Welsh Language
08 JULY 2021
Dear Minister for Education and Welsh Language,
Children have sacrificed so much to keep the country safe during the pandemic. They have lost physical fitness, suffered mental health damage, and experienced catastrophic learning loss. This generation of schoolchildren was the hardest hit and have already missed around 66 school days. The usual school year is 190 days. So it is vital that all schools go back to normal from September 2021.
First, guidance on self-isolation is causing unnecessary and significant disruptions to the education of hundreds of thousands of children. Over 200 pupils at a time are being affected by one instance of a positive test result. This disproportionate policy is unsustainable and is causing deep uncertainty and anxiety among a cohort who have already suffered enough.
Second, restrictions such as bubbles in schools are causing ongoing and severe disruption and preventing schools from operating normally and being able to offer the full array of extra curriculum activities and sports which are so vital for children’s health. Sports days are being cancelled and children are missing out on end of term music concerts, performances, proms, and many other things which normally enrich education.
Schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and disproportionate measures also affect access to drinking water in many areas.
You have said, “Now is the time to support our learners and education professionals, to ensure no one is left behind.” We cannot hope to accomplish this worthwhile aim whilst these restrictions exist.
When plans to welcome all children back were changed at the last minute, we were seeing increased and unsustainable levels of stress and anxiety. We do not believe that Ministers or officials have any idea just how close to breaking point our schools are, or of the impact the actions being taken are having on children. Or, if they do know, we see little sign of it.
For over a year now, schools and children have been in an educational hokey-cokey. Some children were in, some are half-in, or when they were in for the brief period they were only half-in anyway – no whole school assemblies, no sport, drama, singing or music, field trips or school trips. Even hands-on science has been curtailed due to the impact of government guidelines. It is the heads and senior leaders that have had to choreograph this routine, on top of having to maintain business as usual and being held to account for educational outcomes.
There is no more important priority for the Government than the education of children. Can it really be that in an advanced liberal democracy in the 21st century, our Government has made a policy decision to deny children a proper, full and rounded education, denied them contact with their friends and teachers, denied them sport, music, singing and drama, for a virus that demonstrably does not affect them?
We believe that the future plans are yet another devastating blow to education and show a clear disregard for the immense stress that headteachers and other teaching staff are under in having to provide in-school learning together with the plethora of constraints and regulations they will also have to manage and adhere to. This of course impacts directly on the quality of teaching and on learning outcomes.
We urge you to now grasp this opportunity to prioritise children as a matter of urgency. Children need normality, security and certainty. We must restore children’s school lives to normal so they can recover their health, wellbeing, education and their futures.
We also call upon the government to review and reverse its own advice on masks in classrooms, communal areas and schoolyards in some cases (!) as a matter of urgency. Masks should play no part in the life of healthy children.
For many months throughout the main Covid-19 pandemic, WHO advised that there was no evidence to support the use of face masks in community settings and this advice was also followed in Wales. But the use of masks has been gradually implemented, despite very little evidence that they significantly reduce the spread of Sars Cov-2. The evidence is overwhelming that children are at extremely low risk from this infection. They also play a minimal role in community transmission and it has been shown that teaching is a low-risk occupation. Thus, introducing mask usage in schools is likely to have at best an extremely small effect on the pandemic. Given there is no likelihood of benefit to children themselves, then the need to avoid harm is all the more essential.
It is time for Wales to take a lead in protecting children and their rights.