A headteacher, who retired at Christmas after the “hardest year of his career”, says Covid restrictions should continue in schools until the pandemic ends.
David Lewis, 60, who worked in primary schools for 36 years, including 23 as a headteacher in Caerphilly, said keeping mitigations such as contact groups and masks, was the only way to keep children in school.
He said schools should be open, “learning is inevitably lost” and wellbeing affected when pupils are sent home to work. Latest data shows school attendance is just 85% across Wales. Whole year groups have been sent back to work online across Wales with schools hit by staff Covid absence and a shortage of supply cover. You can read more about that here.
Mr Lewis, who retired as head of Aberbargoed Primary at Christmas, said: “To keep children in school we need mitigations like contact bubbles, one way systems and staggered start and end time and masks. I think that should continues.
“I would personally not lift restrictions until Covid rates have diminished considerably and the pandemic is over.
“If the pandemic is not over why would you relax the rules?
“Too much of in education is being relaxed when Covid rates are still astronomical.
“You have got to keep people safe. You have to consider it might go on for years.
“Restrictions should not go in schools until the pandemic is over, if that’s what it takes. Stricter mitigations keep people in schools.”
Mr Lewis said last term was the most disruptive period of the entire pandemic for schools and he is worried that will continue this term.
Things were so bad in his school at one stage last term that only half his pupils were attending and six of his 23 staff were off- all teachers or teaching assistants.
“When there was a relaxation of the Covid rules in schools in September there was chaos.
“Large numbers of children were affected and the staff shortages were significant.
“You got staff ill or unable to come in because they were waiting for test results, or their children were ill. It was impossible to get supply cover. We had three classes shut before half term because of a lack of supply cover.”
He said classrooms should be open but relaxing rules, such as contact bubbles had let Covid in, especially the rule allowing children to attend if a family member had Covid, provided they themselves did not.
“In the last week of October our attendance was 50%. Some online work was happening but if staff are ill they can’t do online teaching.
“It was very, very frustrating. It was the most stressful term of my career.
“I don’t think what’s happening in schools now is sustainable in terms of staffing.
“There is a danger people will leave the profession because of the stress this is causing.
“If you haven’t got cover you can’t have classes. For children this has been the most disrupted academic year.”
Mr Lewis is returning to the classroom as supply cover working for the agency New Directions to help schools manage in the staff absence “crisis”.
“There is a bit of a crisis at the moment. The health service has needed people going back and so do schools. I will go back as a supply teacher or teaching assistant, but obviously I also have the experience of being a head.”
He said he knew how it felt when staff were absent and he wanted to help address the shortage of supply cover during the continued disruption.
Education Minister Jeremy Miles has said Covid restrictions in schools will be eased slowly. At a Welsh Government briefing on January 25 he said a couple more weeks data was needed to better understand the impact of children returning to school, before any other changes were made, but the priority was to keep schools open.
Schools can return to the same Covid restrictions as last term after February half term, he said. That means without the extra measures recommended in response to the Omicron wave at the start of this term – contact bubbles and the flexibility to have staggered start and end times.
The minister said he “expects” normal school start and end times to resume after half term rather than staggered times.
But Welsh Government schools guidance leaves it up to individual schools and councils to decide what mitigations are needed depending on local circumstances.
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