Members received a verbal update on the Impacts Covid-19 has had on the Education, Skills and Culture Department. It was highlighted that the update would remain mostly on the activity during January.
It was noted that remote learning had been in existence for all Schools since 4 January 2021, however, Schools remained open for pupils of key workers and vulnerable learners. Physical attendance at School had increased, there were 400 pupils of key workers and/or vulnerable learners in attendance the first week back of January 2021. That attendance had then increased to 1,000 pupils, which equated to 5% of the pupil population. Schools were actively encouraging those of vulnerable learners to attend school.
Officers highlighted that they hadn’t yet received the operational guidance from Welsh Government regarding the opening of schools. However, had verbally updated Schools on 2 specific points relating to Social Distancing and Facial Coverings. It was noted that social distancing was deemed unnecessary for pupils in a classroom environment before the end of December 2020, however due to new variants, risk assessments had now been revised meaning it was deemed necessary for pupils to comply with social distancing in Schools, particularly Secondary Schools. Face coverings had also been deemed necessary for pupils in classrooms and communal areas in School, particularly Secondary Schools. This is based on local risk assessments. These arrangements would again be reviewed by the end of February.
It was noted that there had recently been a release in the press regarding Examination Series for Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. Resulting in centre assessment grades which would be provided at the end of the academic year to pupils in years 10, 11, 12 and 13 where relevant. It was noted that officers were working with Schools for a consistent approach. It was mentioned that School’s would become an appeal centre for those pupils or parents that may not be satisfied with the results. Officers again reassured members that they would work with schools and are awaiting guidance from Welsh Government.
Officers highlighted to members that they were meeting with Head Teachers on a daily basis to ensure the wellbeing of staff was being maintained. It was noted that Health and Wellbeing Sessions had been procured to support Head Teachers.
Discussions took place around the availability of devices for pupils and connectivity concerns. It was noted that during the first lockdown in March/April 2020, it was identified that 1,300 pupils did not have access to a device and 228 households had a lack of suitable connectivity. For those pupils that did not have access to a device and/or had connectivity issues, they were provided with a Chrome book and Mifi units.
Following the recent uptake in online learning due to lockdown restrictions, the Council had also provided Techers with appropriate devices.
It was noted that there had been a stock delay when purchasing Chromebooks in 2020, delaying receipt of these items.
Members were made aware of lateral flow testing that was currently being piloted, Neath Port Talbot Schools had opted to not participate, due to the current pressures on schools ensuring education is a key priority.
Members received an update on the service delivery of the Inclusion Service. It was noted that the School Based Counselling Service had set up two helplines for school staff and primary pupils as well as a Supervision pilot. It was highlighted that both services were grant funded.
Curriculum reform was discussed and the importance of blended learning continuing as a key element in Schools post Covid-19.
It was noted that the Youth service had been awarded with a bronze quality mark.
Members queried whether there was the possibility of pupils having an additional year to enable them to catch up on the education that they may have missed from Covid-19.
Discussions took place around the support provided to non welsh medium speaking parents. Officers highlight the pro-active approach they had achieved for the Schools due to the difficulties that can appear from home schooling with pupils from Welsh Medium Schools. They discussed skills that pupils had gained such as Translanguaging and the importance of this.
Members asked whether Lateral flow testing would be offered to Child Carers, Officers confirmed that they would query this outside the meeting.
Scrutiny Members and Cabinet Members commended the work of the officers.
Following Scrutiny, the update was noted.