Welsh schools to reopen from 29 June as experts warn UK-wide closures may set back attainment gap by a decade
Wales is set to fully reopen its schools this month (PA)
The Welsh government has announced that all schools will reopen from 29 June as experts warn continued closures could undo almost a decade of progress on closing the attainment gap.
Speaking on Wednesday, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams confirmed that pupils will return to classrooms later this month, with the term extended by a week to 27 July.
The autumn half term will also be expanded to two weeks, and year groups will be separated into cohorts with staggered timetables so only a third are present at any one time.
Ms Williams said: “My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.
“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.
“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand.
“I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.”
She added: “I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”
‘FALLING THROUGH THE GAPS’
Elsewhere in the UK, many primary-age children in England returned to school on Monday despite significant backlash from education bodies.
But new figures from the National Education Union claim that only a third of schools (35%) expanded their attendance this week.
Schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not set to reopen until August, but most schools across the UK have stayed open for the children of key workers.
Wales’ decision comes amid new warnings that school closures are likely to reverse the progress made to narrow the attainment gap in the last decade.
A new report by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) suggests the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers could widen from 11% before the pandemic to 36%.
Sustained support and effective remote learning were needed to mitigate the extent to which the gap had widened, the charity warned.
Commenting on the report, Labour urged the Government to introduce “a package of academic and pastoral support” to alleviate the impact on deprived pupils.
Meanwhile, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield told the Education Select Committee on Wednesday that a “significant” number of children were falling through the gaps.
She said: “If we stick to the number of classes going back right now that could be 8 million children that have been out of school for six months by September.
“So that’s a significant amount of children… The shops will be open soon and kids could’ve spent two and a half months browsing Primark but not been in school.
Ms Longfield added: “Those that are disadvantaged and may have had more negative experiences of school will have more and more time away from it.
“And, as some headteachers have said to me, they stay up worrying about whether those children will ever come back because the leap that that’ll need to get them back into school will be so vast.”
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