As reported by BBC news, high numbers of COVID cases among pupils and staff mean schools are at “breaking point,” a local authority education lead says
Denbighshire is the latest council to ask schools to strengthen measures such as mask-wearing and distancing. Huw Hilditch-Roberts, its lead member for education, said in some classes 50% of pupils had tested positive. Education minister Jeremy Miles said rising numbers were expected after pupils went back to school. The latest all-Wales figures show a spike in COVID cases among under-16s.
Hilditch-Roberts said Denbighshire’s schools had already seen more positive cases in the first two-and-a-half weeks of this term than the whole of the last academic year.
“They’re at breaking point – they are understaffed, they cannot get cover from agencies anywhere across north Wales more or less, we’re not able to supply Welsh education in some areas because we can’t get staff in at short notice.
“The message from Welsh government is that schools are back to normal, business as usual, well actually, no, because we’ve got all this, as well as Estyn inspections restarting, additional learning needs implementation and the new curriculum being started in certain schools as well.
“I believe the challenge right now is bigger than it’s ever been in education,” he said.
Education minister Jeremy Miles said case numbers should be viewed in the new context of a successful vaccine programme.
“It’s changed the balance, balance of harms as we call it, and we are very clear that the best place for our children, young people to be are in school in a safe setting being able to learn with their friends,” he said.
In Merthyr Tydfil, the head teacher of Bishop Hedley Catholic High School – which has had 87 positive cases over the past fortnight – said the situation was extremely challenging.
There are more cases in some year groups than others, Sarah Hopkins said, with some at half-capacity.
“You’ve got that challenge for staff in having half a class in front of them and half a class at home,” she said.
She said exam groups were a “major worry” due to “the loss of learning and their mindset and their mental health”.
Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools needed “strong leadership from the government to calm very real fears that the situation in Wales is getting out of hand”.
“The promised vaccinations programme for 12 to 15-year-olds is potentially the way that we can stem the inexorable rise in cases in our schools but the government has not given a timescale for when this might start or details of how it will work in practice.
“With every passing day, confidence among leaders and teachers that it will be achieved by the October half-term is nosediving,” she said.
Across Wales, over 40% of positive tests are currently from 10 to 19-year-olds. Provisional attendance figures for 13 to 17 September show 89% of pupils on average were present in schools in Wales.