A primary school class has been told to self-isolate for a second fortnight because of coronavirus measures.
Despite schools being back for just over a month, the Year 4 pupils at Hendredenny Park Primary School will have missed four weeks of class teaching.
At time of publication, eight classes across four schools in Caerphilly County Borough are currently self-isolating due to contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus.
After a significant chunk of the last school year was lost, parents have told Caerphilly Observer that a long-term solution is needed to keep children in school.
Current rules require pupils to self-isolate at home for two weeks if their class comes into contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus – regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
Pupils suffering symptoms – such as coughing – are required to stay off school until they are tested.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has advised that people without symptoms should not attend a pop-up test centre to be tested. Some schools however are requiring that siblings of pupils with symptoms can only return following a test.
A myriad of varying rules across schools have left parents confused and worried.
“It’s not sustainable”
Danielle Stockwell’s six-year-old son, who attends Llanfabon Infant’s School in Nelson, was forced to self-isolate less than a week after returning to school at the beginning of last month.
Ms Stockwell said: “We found out on the Sunday evening after we had prepared everything for school the next day. It was worrying being so close to home.
“I have another son in Llancaeach Junior School. I found out he could still go to school, despite my other son self-isolating.
“I could also take my son who is self-isolating to the school yard to pick up my other son.”
Meanwhile, Catherine Callaghan said her nine-year-old son had to self-isolate after another pupil in his year group tested positive for coronavirus.
Ms Callaghan said she had to take three days off work unpaid, costing her around £200, while her husband had to take five days holidays to look after their son while he was isolating.
“It’s not sustainable for working people. It’s really hard. I think they would be better off testing the pupils in school,” said Ms Callaghan, who admitted she “wasn’t surprised” when she received a call from the school asking her son to self-isolate.
She said: “I was waiting for the call – it had been happening elsewhere every day.”
Neil Butler, of teaching trade union NASUWT Cymru, said: “As increased numbers of staff are forced to self-isolate, serious operational difficulties are emerging for schools in maintaining safe working practices.
“The government promised teachers, pupils and parents schools would be safe to return to. So far, they are failing on that promise.”
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Schools doing their best following the guidelines
Hendredenny Park Primary School headteacher, Clare Walsh, said there were strict Public Health Wales guidelines to follow when a positive case is identified.
She said: “We are delivering virtual learning packages to the pupils in self-isolation as part of our blended learning approach. Teaching staff deliver lessons starting at 9am daily as though the pupils were in the classroom, using Microsoft Teams via the Welsh Government’s learning platform Hwb.
“We are very proud of our approach to blended learning at Hendredenny Park Primary, and we have recently been approached by Welsh Government to share our practice with schools across Wales.”
Despite the best efforts of virtual teaching, nothing can replace the educational benefits that physical teaching brings and there have been calls for clearer guidelines.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Sally Holland, said: “During the first lockdown, we captured the views of nearly 24,000 children and young people.
“Overall our results showed that many children and young people struggled when school and college buildings were closed, which is why it is vitally important to keep schools and colleges open wherever it is safe to do so.
“The results of our survey highlighted a real concern about their education when school and college buildings were closed, with 54% of 12 to 18-year-olds stating they were worried about falling behind with learning.
“They also spoke about specific challenges around things like access to laptops or tablets, pressures in the home environment and needing more support with additional learning needs.
“All these results have been shared with the government and others to make sure we provide the best possible support to all our learners and education establishments.
“We must aim to not only to keep learners and staff safe but also ensure learners have the best possible education during and beyond the pandemic.”
Councillor Ross Whiting, Caerphilly County Borough Council’s cabinet member for learning and achievement, thanked school staff for “the amazing work they are doing to keep our children safe”.
He said: “It is vitally important that every school follows current Public Health Wales guidance, as this ensures that the whole school community is protected if positive coronavirus cases are reported amongst pupils or staff.
“I would like to assure parents that all our schools have robust risk assessments and procedure in place to safely manage these incidents.
“Arrangements are also in place to ensure that pupils continue to receive teaching support if they are required to self-isolate away from the classroom, such as textbooks and revision aids being provided for pupils doing their GCSEs.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our operational guidance for schools makes it clear that small, consistent groups help reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the number of learners and staff in contact with each other.
“Maintaining distinct contact groups that do not mix makes it quicker and easier, in the event of a positive case, to identify those who may need to self-isolate and to keep that number as low as possible.
“Our guidance helps schools develop robust plans to ensure learning and teaching can continue in all operational scenarios.
“It’s important we continue to focus on social distancing, good hand and cough hygiene as our personal measures to reduce transmission of Covid-19, and a reminder that both children and staff should not attend school if they are showing symptoms of Covid-19.”
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