Disruption to education is “far from over” headteachers in Wales have warned.
A decision on how next year’s exams will work must be made before the new academic year in September and the way school progress and accountability is monitored cannot revert to the way it was done pre- pandemic.
Publishing its education recovery plan NAHT Cymru said: “Recovery shouldn’t be the straw that breaks school leaders’ backs.”
Thousands of pupils and staff have been sent to self isolate and work and learn from home as a result of the pandemic, schools have been shut in lockdowns and exams have been cancelled for a second year thanks to Covid. Pupils are also confined to class bubbles to learn.
The NAHT Cymru’s 12-page plan warns: “Most school communities have undergone an enormous shock as a result of the pandemic.
“The effects of that shock continue to be felt, and it is clear that the disruption to education is far from over.”
The new curriculum, has already been delayed once and the Welsh Government has insisted it is due to be rolled out from September 2022.
Among other changes it means individual subjects will be replaced by faculties and teachers will be given more freedom to decide what is taught. But the NAHT Cymru is the latest union to call for a delay to the changes saying schools have not had enough time to prepare thanks to Covid disruption, the effects of which will still be felt for some time to come.
“As we move into a new school year, schools must be freed from unnecessary distractions and burdens so that they can continue to meet the relentless challenges of the pandemic and focus on providing the vital support that pupils need,” the document adds
“The timetable set out pre-covid for the new curriculum and indeed ALN reform is unworkable…
“…Recovery must be the priority and for now, for the short term, schools must be left to assess the needs of their learners and their staff and put them first.”
On inspections and tests the document adds: “Few would argue that there should be no system of accountability for schools, but the pause in routine Estyn inspections that has occurred during the pandemic provides a rare and unique opportunity to ask some fundamental questions about the sort of system that we should have.
“Similarly, the pause in primary statutory assessment offers an opportunity to reflect on whether the current system is truly fit for purpose and in the best interests of pupils.
“NAHT Cymru has long argued that there should be fewer statutory assessments during a child’s time in primary school.”
As things currently stand, in 2021-22 there are due to be four distinct statutory assessments taking place in primary schools for children aged seven to 11 (years three to six) and three for Foundation Phase children aged three to six.
“This is simply too many and it is hard to see how this volume of statutory assessments will help the recovery process next year, or beyond,” NAHT Cymru said.
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Laura Doel, director of NAHT Cymru said: “School leaders and their teams have supported the needs of their children and young people throughout the Covid pandemic, and because the recovery challenges will differ from school to school, the government should listen to the experts in the field for how recovery should look.
“The government should build on existing good practice, trust and empower school leaders and teachers, invest properly, and target academic support to meet the individual needs of pupils so that we tackle the pre-pandemic attainment gap.
“For this to happen, there needs to be an understanding from the government that the education reform agenda and the resumption of school inspections must be put on hold to allow our leaders to focus on the priority which must be recovery. Recovery shouldn’t be the straw that breaks school leaders’ backs.”
NAHT Cymru’s seven priorities for education recommended to the Welsh Government:
Remove unnecessary burdens and distractions
Prioritise the early years
Improve support for children’s mental health and well-being
Invest in the teaching profession
Provide targeted academic support for pupils who need it
Expand extra-curricular provision and invest in extra-curricular providers
Invest in school technology.
Kerina Hanson, president of NAHT Cymru said: “This blueprint draws on the vision our members have for the future of education in Wales, and our expectations are on the government to harness our ambition for change: we can’t just return to ‘normal.’”
The Welsh Government said in response: “We agree with NAHT on a number of areas – including the importance of early years as a priority area for support, extra-curricular activities and supporting bespoke interventions – and have engaged with NAHT Cymru and other stakeholders on the principles and priorities for learning recovery.
“Today, we have announced £33m in additional support for colleges and sixth forms, bringing our investment in education and wider support to £150m this financial year.
“Learner wellbeing, and finding out what learners need from us as they look to take their next steps in education, will be central to our recovery approach, and we have been clear that these principles also underpin curriculum reform, with all our investment taking us towards the new curriculum.”