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School returns underway in Wales and Scotland

School days: The government has to balance students’ educational needs with their safety.
School days: The government has to balance students’ educational needs with their safety. Source: Pexels (via Pixabay)

By Luthien Evans | News Editor

Following Boris Johnson’s roadmap for the exiting of lockdown, the Welsh and Scottish governments have stated their own stances on the roadmap for each of the nations. The English model has stated the return and reopening of all schools on March 8. Wales and Scotland have instead opted for phased returns for students.

Both nations’ governments have questioned the English roadmap for educational returns. Kirsty Williams, Welsh Education Minister, even stated that she has not personally seen any scientific evidence that would support the UK government’s plan for school returns in one lump sum instead of a staggered return.

It has been suggested that the reasoning for a staggered return would enable the governments to monitor COVID-19 infections, in order to prevent the escalation of cases.

As of the week beginning 22 February, primary school students aged between three and seven are back at school. Williams further stated that this will be monitored and if conditions allow and improve over the next three weeks, then further primary age students could also return to school and education from 15 March. This would also include older students, for example in secondary schools, who will be taking exams. 

Williams further hopes that all students will be back in the school following the Easter holidays, in Wales this date will be set for 12 April.

Williams, when asked about the comparison between the approach in Wales and England stated: ‘I haven’t received any new evidence or advice that supports a different approach to the one we are taking here in Wales. Our phased and very careful approach is in line with the public health advice and is consistent with the UK-wide advice.’

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has commented that keeping the infection rate low is important as she claims ‘ there is not enough headroom to allow greater relaxations’. She also commented on the fact that this pandemic has been especially hard on young students regarding their mental well-being.

The return of pupils has been disputed however by many union members. Neil Butler of the NASUWT National office for Wales has stated in talks with The Guardian: “We have made it clear that we would want to see the educational workforce vaccinated before returning to face-to-face teaching. Our members are telling us that they will return, but they are terrified. This is unacceptable.” 

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